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Attention networks functioning in bilingual children: evidence from  Polish-English migrant children living in the UK    

Joanna Kolak (Jagiellonian University), Zofia Wodniecka (Jagiellonian University & Penn State University), Marta Bialecka-Pikul (Jagiellonian University), Ewa Haman (University of Warsaw) & Magdalena Luniewska (University of Warsaw)


Executive control; Alerting;Orienting; Bilingual children; Polish English; Attention Network Test; Flanker effect; Early bilingualism

Some studies demonstrate that bilingual children outperform their monolingual peers in overall reaction time and accuracy in attention tasks (Yang and Lust, 2011; Bialystok, et al. 2012), demonstrate a particular advantage in the ability to resolve conflict (Engel de Abreu et al., 2012) and benefit more from a spatial cue which helps to align attention more efficiently (Poarch and Van Hell, 2012).

In the reported study we focus on the comparison between the group of Polish migrant children living in the UK and their peers living in Poland on child friendly version of the Attention Network Test (Rueda, 2004). The task allows to evaluate the three separate attention networks’ processing efficiency (Fan et al., 2002) measuring conflict resolution, alertness and orienting of attention.

In the task, a stimuli (fish) appears in a horizontal line at the center of the laptop screen. The child’s task is to decide whether the fish in the middle (stimuli) is pointing to the right or to the left. Four other fish in a line (the flankers) are pointing either to the same direction as the stimuli (congruent condition) or to the opposite direction (incongruent condition). Before the stimuli appears on the screen, a child is presented with one of four different cue types: double, spatial, center and no cue. The task is divided into four blocks, 32 trials in each (50% incongruent) and lasts approximately 20 minutes. Both reaction time and accuracy are measured. In between-group comparisons we compare: (a) the difference between congruent and incongruent trials in reaction time and in accuracy (flanker effect), (b) the difference between center cue and spatial cue condition (orienting network), (c) the difference between no cue and double cue condition (alerting network) as well as (d) the mean reaction time and (e) the mean accuracy.

Preliminary comparison of a group living in the UK (N=38) and Poland (N=39), matched for age and SES, reveals that monolingual group enjoys smaller flanker effect in accuracy than their bilingual counterparts (F(3,73)=6,33, p=.014, η2=.780) and benefits more from the alerting cue (F(3,72)=4.71, p=.005, η2=.164). Subsequent analyses will involve analyzing possible factors that might have contributed to the absence of the expected benefit in cognitive control in the migrant children group. Factors such as experimental setting (home vs. school) will be taken into account in the follow up analyses. The additional analyses will involve testing a relationship between the size of the flanker effect, the proficiency in both languages as well as the length of exposure to L2. A limited input in both languages, and thus no sufficient training in using both languages, might be a factor driving the lack of the expected benefit in attention functioning of the emerging bilingual group.



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