The effect of cognitive load on code-switching

Hong Liu*, Zhixin Liu, Meng Yuan, Tingyu Chen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Aims and objectives: This study explores the effect of cognitive load on code-switching (CS), by examining whether an increase in cognitive load can lead to a different amount and/or pattern of CS use, and whether there is an interplay between the effect of cognitive load and the effect of social factors (i.e., language and use, and attitudes towards CS). Methodology: Thirty-one Chinese-English bilinguals participated in a picture recall experiment consisting of three sessions, with an incremental increase in cognitive load which was achieved by manipulating the number of attentional targets that should be attended to. The increase in cognitive load was validated by a self-report survey adapted from Paas. Information on social variables was collected by a language use questionnaire. Data and analysis: The amount and pattern (intraclausal vs interclausal) of CS were coded and quantified. One-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was performed to compare the within-participant use of CS across the sessions. Hierarchal regression analyses were also conducted to examine how cognitive load and the social variables of interest predicted the between-participant variation of CS in each session. Findings/conclusions: The results showed that the participants used significantly less intraclausal CS in Session 3, in which they reported the highest degree of cognitive load. In addition, the results of hierarchical regression analyses for overall CS use in Session 2 confirmed the significant effect of cognitive load. The influence of attitudes towards CS was also shown to be another significant predictor with large effect size. However, in the more demanding Session 3, none of the factors of interest could predict between-participant variation in CS use. Originality: This study is among the first to examine how cognitive load affects nonlaboratory CS. Significance/implications: This study argues for a recognition of the cognitive processing basis of socially driven language use, linking sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic perspectives on the use of CS.

Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal of Bilingualism
Publication statusPublished - May 2023


  • Chinese-English code-switching
  • attitude
  • cognitive load
  • experiment
  • language use
  • processing


Dive into the research topics of 'The effect of cognitive load on code-switching'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this