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Cognitive control in interpreting

Soudabeh Nour (Brussels Institute of Applied Linguistics, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium), Maurits van den Noort (Brussels Institute of Applied Linguistics, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium & Research Group of Pain and Neuroscience, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Republic of Korea) & Esli Struys (Center of Linguistics, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium)


Bilingualism; Cognitive control; Interpreting; Simon task; Stroop; Conflict resolution; Working memory; fMRI

Multilinguals, who use their languages on a daily basis, show cognitive advantages; especially, when control requirements are high [1]. How is this finding related to one specific subgroup of highly proficient bilingual speakers: interpreters, who professionally use their cognitive control skills on a daily basis?

In the present pilot-study, we compared a group of 13 highly proficient bilingual speakers with a group of 13 professional interpreters. All participants were recruited in Brussels and we controlled for second language proficiency, gender, and age. All participants completed the color Simon task and the numerical Stroop task, and both the accuracy rates and the reaction times were collected.

The results of our study show that both the highly proficient bilingualism group and the interpreter group perform extremely well on both cognitive control tasks. For the Simon task the following accuracy scores for the highly proficient bilinguals are found: 95.59% (SD = 13.52%) on the congruent items and 94.49% (SD = 13.65%) on the incongruent items versus for the interpreters 98.56% (SD = 2.91%) on the congruent items and 98.10% (SD = 2.70%) on the incongruent items. Both groups show similar accuracy scores (p > .05). The analysis of the reaction times shows that both groups do not differ significantly (p > .05). The results of the numerical Stroop task show a similar pattern. The highly proficient bilinguals are 94.08% (SD = 15.85%) correct on the congruent items and 89.22% (SD = 15.54%) on the incongruent items versus for the interpreting group 98.39% (SD = 2.40%) on the congruent items and 93.56% (SD = 4.26%) on the incongruent items. No significant differences in accuracy scores and reaction times are found between the two groups (p > .05).

To conclude no differences in accuracy and processing time were found on both cognitive control tasks between groups, indicating that the interpreters’ advantage over non-interpreter bilinguals do not extend to conflict resolution. These results are consistent with other studies that fail to report any professional interpreters’ advantages in tasks that require interference control such as the Stroop [2] or the Simon tasks [3]. This pilot study is part of a bigger project on cognitive control in interpreting. The focus will be on other control components which are involved in interpreting, such as working memory (verbal/ non-verbal) and the attention network, using both behavioral tests and functional magnetic resonance imaging in a longitudinal research design.



[1] Kroll, J.F., & Bialystok. E. Understanding the consequences of bilingualism for language processing and cognition. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25(5):497–514, 2013.

[2] Köpke, B., & Nespoulous, J.L. Working memory performance in expert and novice interpreters. Interpreting, 8(1):1–23, 2006.

[3] Yudes, C., Macizo, P., & Bajo, T. The influence of expertise in simultaneous interpreting on non-verbal executive processes. Frontiers in Psychology, 2:309, 2011.