Cognitive control and language ability contribute to online reading comprehension: Implications for older adult bilinguals

Megan Zirnstein, Janet G. van Hell, Judith F. Kroll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Aims: Previous research has indicated that young adults form predictions for the meaning of upcoming words when contexts are highly constrained. This can lead to processing benefits when expectations are met, but also costs, as indicated by a late, frontally distributed and positive event-related potential (ERP), when an unexpected word is encountered. This effect has been associated with the conflict that arises for prediction errors, as well as attempts to suppress a previously formed prediction. However, individual differences have been found for young adult bilingual and older adult monolingual readers, whereby only those who exhibited better language regulation and executive function skill showed this pattern. The goal of the current study was to investigate how these executive functions influence comprehension skill and behavior for elderly bilinguals. Approach: We asked whether older adult monolinguals and bilinguals were capable of generating predictions online, and whether cognitive control and language regulation ability were related to the magnitude of prediction costs. Data and Analysis: Participants (N = 27) read sentences while their electroencephalogram was recorded, and completed a battery of language and cognitive performance tasks. Findings: While older adult monolinguals showed some sensitivity to prediction error, older adult bilinguals produced greater prediction costs, an effect that was significantly correlated with both age and control ability. Originality: This study is the first to show ERP evidence that bilinguals are capable of forming predictions during comprehension in older adulthood. Significance: These results have important implications for the ways in which bilingualism may influence comprehension across the lifespan. While healthy aging has been proposed to lead to declines in executive function these declines may be mitigated for bilinguals, who have a wealth of experience in negotiating language-related conflict.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)971-985
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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