Skip to main content Accessibility help

Interaction of bilingualism and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in young adults*



One hundred and sixty-eight young adult participants were classified as monolingual or bilingual and as having a previously reported clinical diagnosis of ADHD or not to create four groups. All participants completed tests of language proficiency, ADHD ratings, and executive control. Both bilingualism and ADHD are generally associated with poorer vocabulary knowledge, but bilingualism and ADHD are associated with opposite effects on executive control. Consistent with this literature, bilinguals performed more poorly than monolinguals on the vocabulary test but contrary to predictions, the ADHD group performed somewhat better on language ability than the non-ADHD group, attesting to their high functioning status. For the flanker task, both bilinguals and non-ADHD participants showed less cost in performing in the conflict condition than in the baseline condition. For the stop-signal task, ADHD status interfered more with performance by bilinguals than monolinguals, suggesting a greater burden of ADHD on executive function for this group.


Corresponding author

Address for Correspondence: Ellen Bialystok, Department of Psychology, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, ON, M3J 1P3, Canada


Hide All

This research was funded by grant A2559 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Canada (NSERC) and grant R01HD052523 from the US National Institutes of Health to Ellen Bialystok. We thank Lee Unger for assistance throughout this study.



Hide All
Abutalebi, J., Della Rosa, P. A., Green, D. W., Hernandez, M., Scifo, P., Keim, R., & Costa, A. (2012). Bilingualism tunes the anterior cingulate cortex for conflict monitoring. Cerebral Cortex, 9, 20762086. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr287.
Alderson, R. M., Rapport, M. D., & Kofler, M. J. (2007). Attention-deficit/hyperacivity disorder and behavioral inhibition: A meta-analytic review of the stop-signal paradigm. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 35, 745758. doi: 10.1007/s10802-007-9131-6
Alderson, R. M., Rapport, M. D., Sarver, D. E., & Kofler, M. J. (2008). ADHD and behavioral inhibition: A re-examination of the stop-signal task. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 36, 989998.
Arnsten, A. F. T., & Rubia, K. (2012). Neurobiological circuits regulating attention, cognitive control, motivation and emotion: Disruptions in neurodevelopmental psychiatric disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 51, 356367.
Barbaresi, W. J., Colligan, R. C., Weaver, A. L., Voigt, R. G., Killian, J. M., & Katusic, S. K. (2013). Mortality, ADHD, and Psychosocial Adversity in Adults With Childhood ADHD: A Prospective Study. Pediatrics, 131 (4), 637644.
Barkley, R. A. (1990). Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: A handbook for diagnosis and treatment. New York: The Guilford Press.
Barkley, R. A. (2006). Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: A handbook for diagnosis and treatment (3rd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
Barkley, R. A., Fischer, M., Smallish, L., & Fletcher, K. (2002). The persistence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder into young adulthood as a function of reporting source and definition of the disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 111, 279289. doi: 10.1037//0021-843X.111.2.279
Bekker, E. M., Overtoom, C. C., Kenemans, J. L., Kooij, J. J., De Noord, I., Buitelaar, J. K., & Verbaten, M. N. (2005). Stopping and changing in adults with ADHD. Psychological Medicine, 35, 807816. doi: 10.1017/S0033291704003459
Bellani, M., Moretti, A., Perlini, C., & Brambilla, P. (2011). Language Disturbances in ADHD. Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, 4, 311315.
Bialystok, E. (2006). Effect of bilingualism and computer video game experience on the Simon task. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 60, 6879.
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., Green, D. W., & Gollan, T. H. (2009). Bilingual minds. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 10, 89129. doi: 10.1177/1529100610387084
Bialystok, E., & Luk, G. (2012). Receptive vocabulary differences in monolingual and bilingual adults. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 15, 397401.
Bialystok, E., Luk, G., Peets, K. F., & Yang, S. (2010). Receptive vocabulary differences in monolingual and bilingual children. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 13, 525531. doi: 10.1017/S1366728909990423
Bialystok, E., Martin, M. M., & Viswanathan, M. (2005). Bilingualism across the lifespan: The rise and fall of inhibitory control. International Journal of Bilingualism, 9, 103119.
Blackwell, K. A., Chatham, C. H., Wiseheart, M., & Munakata, Y. (2014). A developmental window into trade-offs in executive function: The case of task switching versus response inhibition in 6-year-olds. Neuropsychologia, 62, 356364.
Bruce, B., Thernlund, G., & Nettelbladt, U. (2006). ADHD and language impairment: A study of the parent questionnaire FTF (Five to Fifteen). European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 15, 5260. doi: 10.1007/s00787-006-0508-9
Calvo, A., & Bialystok, E. (2014). Independent effects of bilingualism and socioeconomic status on language ability and executive functioning. Cognition, 130, 278288.
Cepeda, N. J., Blackwell, K. A., & Munakata, Y. (2013). Speed isn't everything: Complex processing speed measures mask individual differences and developmental changes in executive control. Developmental Science, 16, 269286.
Cepeda, N. J., Cepeda, M. L., & Kramer, A. F. (2000). Task switching and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 28, 213226. doi: 10.1023/A:1005143419092
Cepeda, N. J., Kramer, A. F., & Gonzalez de Sather, J. C. M. (2001). Changes in executive control across the life span: Examination of task-switching performance. Developmental Psychology, 37, 715730. doi: 10.1037//0012-1649.37.5.715
Colzato, L. S., Bajo, M. T., van den Wildenberg, W., Paolieri, D., Nieuwenhuis, S., La Heij, W., & Hommel, B. (2008). How does bilingualism improve executive control? A comparison of active and reactive inhibition mechanisms. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 34, 302312. doi: 10.1037/0278-7393.34.2.302
Conners, C. K., Erhardt, D., & Sparrow, E. (1999). Conners’ Adult ADHD Rating Scales (CAARS) technical manual. North Tonawanda, NY: Multi-Health Systems.
Cortese, S., Kelly, C., Chabernaud, C., Proal, E., Di Martino, A., Milham, M. P., & Castellanos, F. X. (2012). Toward Systems Neuroscience of ADHD: A Meta-Analysis of 55 fMRI Studies. American Journal of Psychiatry, 169, 10381055.
Costa, A., Hernandez, M., & Sebastián-Gallés, N. (2008). Bilingualism aids conflict resolution: Evidence from the ANT task. Cognition, 106, 5986. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2006.12.013.
Costa, A., Hernandez, A., Costa-Faidella, J., & Sebastián-Gallés, N. (2009). On the bilingual advantage in conflict processing: Now you see it, now you don’t. Cognition, 113, 135149.
Craik, F. I. M., & Bialystok, E. (2006). Cognition through the lifespan cognition: Mechanisms of change. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10, 131138.
de Zeeuw, P., Aaronoudse-Moens, C., Bijlhout, J., Konig, C., Post Uiterweer, A., Papanikolau, A., Hoogenraad, C., Imandt, L., De Been, D., Sergeant, J. A., & Oosterlaan, J. (2008). Inhibitory performance, response speed, intraindividual variability, and response accuracy in ADHD. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 47, 808816.
Dunn, L. M., & Dunn, L. M. (1997). Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (3rd ed.). Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service.
Emmorey, K., Luk, G., Pyers, J., & Bialystok, E. (2008). The source of enhanced cognitive control in bilinguals: Evidence from bimodal bilinguals. Psychological Science, 19, 12011206.
Epstein, J. N., Langberg, J. M., Rosen, P. J., Graham, A., Narad, M. E., Antonini, T. N., Brinkman, W. B., Froehlich, T., Simon, J. O, & Altaye, M. (2011). Evidence for higher reaction time variability for children with ADHD on a range of cognitive tasks including reward and event rate manipulations. Neuropsychology, 25 (4), 427441. doi: 10.1037/a0022155
Eriksen, B. A., & Eriksen, C. W. (1974). Effects of noise letters upon the identification of a target letter in a nonsearch task. Perception and Psychophysics, 16, 143149. doi: 10.3758/BF03203267
Green, D. W. (1998). Mental control of the bilingual lexico-semantic system. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 1, 6781. doi: 10.1017/S1366728998000133
Gold, B. T., Kim, C., Johnson, N. F., Kryscio, R. J., & Smith, C. D. (2013). Lifelong bilingualism maintains neural efficiency for cognitive control in aging. Journal of Neuroscience, 33 (2), 387396. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3837-12.2013
Gollan, T. H., Montoya, R. I., Cera, C., & Sandoval, T. (2008). More use almost always means a smaller frequency effect: Aging, bilingualism and weaker links hypothesis. Journal of Memory and Language, 58, 784814.
Grosjean, F. (1982). Life with two languages. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Hervey, A. S., Epstein, J. N., & Curry, J. F. (2004). Neuropsychology of adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A meta-analytic review. Neuropsychology, 18 (3), 485503. doi: 10.1037/0894-4105.18.3.485
Hilchey, M. D., & Klein, R. M. (2011). Are there bilingual advantages on nonlinguistic interference tasks? Implications for the plasticity of executive control processes. Psychology Bulletin Review, 4, 625658. doi: 10.3758/s13423-011-0116-7.
Kaufman, A. S., & Kaufman, N. L. (2004).Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test, Second Edition. Bloomington, MN: Pearson, Inc.
Kim, O. H., & Kaiser, A. P. (2000). Language characteristics of children with ADHD. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 21, 154165. doi:10.1177/152574010002100304
King, J. A., Colla, M., Brass, M., Heuser, I., & von Cramon, D. Y. (2007). Inefficient cognitive control in adult ADHD: Evidence from trial-by-trial Stroop tests and cued task switching performance. Behavioral and Brain Functions, 3 (42). doi: 10.1186/1744-9081-3-42
Kousaie, S., & Phillips, N. A. (2012). Conflict monitoring and resolution: are two languages better than one? Evidence from reaction time and event-related brain potentials. Brain Research, 1446, 7190. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2012.01.052
Kovacs, A. M., & Mehler, J. (2009). Cognitive gains in 7-month-old bilingual infants. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 106 (16), 65566560. doi:10.1073/pmsa.0811323106.
Kramer, A. F., Cepeda, N. J., & Cepeda, M. L. (2001). Methylphenidate effects on task-switching performance in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40, 12771284. doi: 10.1097/00004583-200111000-00007
Kroll, J. F., Bobb, S. C., & Hoshino, N. (2014). Two languages in mind: Bilingualism as a tool to investigate language, cognition, and the brain. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23, 159163. doi: 10.1177/0963721414528511
Kroll, J. F., Dussias, P. E., Bogulski, C. A., & Valdes-Kroff, J. (2012). Juggling two languages in one mind: What bilinguals tell us about language processing and its consequences for cognition. In Ross, B. (Ed.), The Psychology of Learning and Motivation (Vol. 56, pp. 229262). San Diego: Academic Press.
Lijffijt, M., Kenemans, J. L., Verbaten, M. N., & van Engeland, H. (2005). A meta-analytic review of stopping performance in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Deficient inhibitory motor control? Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 114, 216222. doi: 10.1037/0021843X.114.2.216
Logan, G. D. (1994). On the ability to inhibit thought and action: A users’ guide to the stop signal paradigm . In Dagenbach, D., & Carr, T. H. (Eds.), Inhibitory processes in attention, memory, and language (pp. 189239). San Diego, California: Academic Press.
Luk, G., Anderson, J. A. E., Craik, F. I. M., Grady, C., & Bialystok, E. (2010). Distinct neural correlates for two types of inhibition in bilinguals: Response inhibition versus interference suppression. Brain and Cognition, 74, 347357.
Luk, G., & Bialystok, E. (2013). Bilingualism is not a categorical variable: Interaction between language proficiency and usage. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25 (5), 605621.
Luk, G., de Sa, E., & Bialystok, E. (2011). Is there a relation between onset age of bilingualism and enhancement of cognitive control? Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 14, 588595. doi: 10.1017/s1366728911000010
MacLaren, V. V., Taukulis, H. K., & Best, L. A. (2007). Inhibition in adults with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: Event-related potentials in the stop task. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 32 (3–4), 155162. doi: 10.1007/s10484-007-9042-x.
Mathers, M. E. (2006). Aspects of language in children with ADHD. Journal of Attention Disorders, 9 (3), 523533. doi: 10.1177/1087054705282437
McGee, R., Williams, S., Bradshaw, J., Chapel, J., Robins, A., & Silva, P. A. (1985). The Rutter scale for completion by teachers: Factor structure and relationship with cognitive abilities and family adversity for a sample of New Zealand children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 26, 727739. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7610.1985.tb00587.x
McInnes, A., Humphries, T., Hogg-Johnson, S., & Tannock, R. (2003). Listening comprehension and working memory are impaired in Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder irrespective of language impairment. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 31 (4), 427443.
McLoughlin, G., Albrecht, B., Banaschewski, T., Rothenberger, A., Brandeis, D., Asherson, P., & Kuntsi, J. (2009). Performance monitoring is altered in adult ADHD: A familial event-related potential investigation. Neuropsychologia, 47, 31343142. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2009.07.013
Mor, B., Yitzhaki-Amsalem, S., & Prior, A. (2014). The joint effect of bilingualism and ADHD on executive function. Journal of Attention Disorders. Advanced online publication. Doi: 10.1177/087054714527790.
Nigg, J. T., Carr, L., Martel, M., & Henderson, J. M. (2007). Concepts of inhibition and developmental psycholopathology . In Gorfein, D. S., & MacLeod, C. M. (Eds.), Inhibition in cognition (pp. 259277). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Nigg, J. T., Stavro, G., Ettenhofer, M., Hambrick, D. Z., Miller, T., & Henderson, J. M. (2005a). Executive functions and ADHD in adults: Evidence for selective effects on ADHD symptom domains. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 114, 706717. doi: 10.1037/0021-843X.114.3.706
Nigg, J. T., Willcutt, E. G., Doyle, A. E., & Sonuga-Barke, J. S. (2005b). Causal heterogeneity in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity disorder: Do we need neuropsychologically impaired subtypes? Biological Psychiatry, 57, 12241230.
Paap, K. R., & Greenberg, Z. I. (2013). There is no coherent evidence for a bilingual advantage in executive processing. Cognitive Psychology, 66, 232258. doi:10.1016/j.cogpsych.2012.12.002.
Prior, A., & MacWhinney, B. (2010). A bilingual advantage in task switching. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 13, 253262. doi: 10.1017/S1366728909990526
Ridderinkhof, K. R., Band, G. P. H., & Logan, G. D. (1999). A study of adaptive behavior: Effects of age and irrelevant information on the ability to inhibit one's actions. Acta Psychologica, 101, 315337. doi: 10.1016/S0001-6918(99)00010-4
Rodriguez-Pujadas, A., Sanjuan, A., Fuentes, P., Ventura-Campos, N., Barros-Loscertales, A., & Avila, C. (2014). Differential neural control in early bilinguals and monolinguals during response inhibition. Brain and Language, 132, 4351. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2014.03.003
Salvatierra, J. L., & Rosselli, M. (2010). The effect of bilingualism and age on inhibitory control. International Journal of Bilingualism, 15 (1), 2637. doi: 10.1177/1367006910371021
Schecklmann, M., Ehlis, A. C., Plichta, M. M., Dresler, T., Heine, M., Boreatti-Hummer, A., . . . ., & Fallgatter, A. J. (2013). Working memory and response inhibition as on integral phenotype of adult ADHD? A behavioral and imagining correlational investigation. Journal of Attention Disorders, 6, 460482. doi: 10.1177/1087054711429702.
Schoechlin, C., & Engel, R. R. (2005). Neuropsychological performance in adult attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: Meta-analysis of empirical data. Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 20, 727744. doi: 10.1016/j.acn.2005.04.005
Singh, L., Fu, C. S., Rahman, A. A., Hameed, W. B., Sanmugam, S., Agarwal, P., Jiang, B., Chong, Y. S., Meaney, M, J., & Rifkin-Graboi, A. (2014). Back to Basics: A Bilingual Advantage in Infant Visual Habituation. Child Development, doi: 10.1111/cdev.12271
Sonuga-Barke, E. J. (2003). The dual pathway model of ADHD: an elaboration of neuro-developmental characteristics. Neuroscience & Behavioral Reviews, 27 (7), 593604.
Sonuga-Barke, E. J., Bitsakou, P., & Thompson, M. (2010). Beyond the dual pathway model: Evidence for the dissociation of timing, inhibitory, and delay-related impairments in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 49 (4), 345355.
Spencer, T. J., Biederman, J., Wilens, T. E., & Faraone, S. V. (2002). Overview and neurobiology of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 63, 39.
Stuss, D. T., & Benson, D. F. (1986). The Frontal Lobes. New York: Raven Press.
Vaidya, C. J., Bunge, S. A., Dudukovic, N. M., Zalecki, C. A., Elliott, G. R., & Gabrieli, J. D. E. (2005). Altered neural substrates of cognitive control in childhood ADHD: Evidence from functional magnetic resonance imaging. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 162, 16051613. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.162.9.1605
Weyandt, L. L., & Dupaul, G. (2006). ADHD in college students. Journal of Attention Disorders, 10, 919. doi: 10.1177/1087054705286061.
Weyandt, L. L., & Willis, W. G. (1994). Executive functions in school-aged children: Potential efficacy of tasks in discriminating clinical groups. Developmental Neuropsychology, 10, 2738. doi: 10.1080/87565649409540564
Willcutt, E. G., Doyle, A. E., Nigg, J. T., Faraone, S. V., & Pennington, B. F. (2005). Validity of the executive function theory of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: A meta-analytic review. Biological Psychiatry, 57, 13361346.
Willcutt, E. G. (2012). The Prevalence of DSM-IV Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Meta-Analytic Review. Neurotherapeutics, 9 (3), 490499.
Wimmer, M. C., & Marx, C. (2014). Inhibitory processes in visual perception: a bilingual advantage. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 126, 412419. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2014.03.004
Wodushek, T., & Neuman, C. (2003). Inhibitory capacity in adults with symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, 18, 317330.
Yang, S., Yang, H., & Lust, B. (2011). Early childhood bilingualism leads to advances in executive attention: Dissociating culture and language. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 14, 412422.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
  • ISSN: 1366-7289
  • EISSN: 1469-1841
  • URL: /core/journals/bilingualism-language-and-cognition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed