Language Entropy Relates to Behavioral and Pupil Indices of Executive Control in Young Adult Bilinguals

Floor van den Berg*, Jelle Brouwer, Thomas Tienkamp, Josje Verhagen, Merel Keijzer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Introduction: It has been proposed that bilinguals’ language use patterns are differentially associated with executive control. To further examine this, the present study relates the social diversity of bilingual language use to performance on a color-shape switching task (CSST) in a group of bilingual university students with diverse linguistic backgrounds. Crucially, this study used language entropy as a measure of bilinguals’ language use patterns. This continuous measure reflects a spectrum of language use in a variety of social contexts, ranging from compartmentalized use to fully integrated use.

Methods: Language entropy for university and non-university contexts was calculated from questionnaire data on language use. Reaction times (RTs) were measured to calculate global RT and switching and mixing costs on the CSST, representing conflict monitoring, mental set shifting, and goal maintenance, respectively. In addition, this study innovatively recorded a potentially more sensitive measure of set shifting abilities, namely, pupil size during task performance.

Results: Higher university entropy was related to slower global RT. Neither university entropy nor non-university entropy were associated with switching costs as manifested in RTs. However, bilinguals with more compartmentalized language use in non-university contexts showed a larger difference in pupil dilation for switch trials in comparison with non-switch trials. Mixing costs in RTs were reduced for bilinguals with higher diversity of language use in non-university contexts. No such effects were found for university entropy.

Discussion: These results point to the social diversity of bilinguals’ language use as being associated with executive control, but the direction of the effects may depend on social context (university vs. non-university). Importantly, the results also suggest that some of these effects may only be detected by using more sensitive measures, such as pupil dilation. The paper discusses theoretical and practical implications regarding the language entropy measure and the cognitive effects of bilingual experiences more generally, as well as how methodological choices can advance our understanding of these effects.
Original languageEnglish
Article number864763
Number of pages17
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 4-May-2022


  • bilingualism
  • executive control
  • language entropy
  • individual differences
  • pupillometry
  • generalized additive mixed modeling

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