Criteria for Evaluating Bilingual Neuroimaging Studies

Given improvements in the availability and use of neuroimaging technologies, one should expect to see many more studies being conducted with a variety of populations, including bilinguals. However, caution should be exercised in interpreting these studies because they are still at a preliminary stage with regard to researchers' sensitivity to possible artifacts. At the very least, the following set of considerations should be applied when designing or evaluating future neural imaging studies of bilinguals.

1. Adequate assessment of the bilinguals on proficiency and other language acquisition and use parameters,

2. Use of a homogenous language sample rather than speakers of various different language pairs

3. Inclusion of early and late bilinguals, with each group subdivided according to degree of L1 and L2 proficiency

4. Inclusion of monolingual comparison groups for each of the languages under study

5. Monitoring of participants' behavioral responses during the scanning to provide additional evidence regarding task performance and to ensure that participants complied with instructions

6. Inclusion of a measure of stimulus complexity (e.g., word frequency or other measures)

7. Inclusion of some task parameters, ideally in such a way that the stimuli are kept constant, leaving only the task to vary (e.g., by varying the instructional demands)

8. Inclusion of more than one baseline measure for purposes of comparison

9. Examination of all sites where either significant increases or decreases in activation were noted, not just sites in the so-called classic language areas

10. Statistical testing for relative activation in left and right hemisphere sites, both cortical and subcortical, to the extent possible

11. Use of converging measures (e.g., testing the same subjects on different paradigms)

12. Use of statistical analyses that search for interaction effects of language or by group by task or site direction

13. Use of hypotheses that are grounded in prior theory and research in bilingualism.

Despite the rapid proliferation of neuroimaging studies using bilingual participants, the image of the bilingual brain that has emerged to date is neither uniform nor easily interpreted.

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