Home » Abstract » Efficiency of Inhibitory Control in Second Language Learners – insight from a behavioral and ERP longitudinal study

Efficiency of Inhibitory Control in Second Language Learners – insight from a behavioral and ERP longitudinal study

Patrycja Kalamala, Jakub Szewczyk, Magdalena Senderecka, Joanna Durlik, Zofia Wodniecka (Jagiellonian University, Institute of Psychology)


Inhibitory control; Language learning; Immersion; Bilingual advantage;

Previous studies suggest that bilinguals outperform monolinguals in conflict resolution tasks, indicating a bilingual advantage in inhibitory control [1,2]. However, it is unknown whether there is a causal relationship between bilingualism and the efficiency of inhibitory control mechanism. Until now, a bilingual advantage in inhibitory control has been tested only in cross-sectional studies, which allow to establish a correlation, but not causal relationship. Provided there is a causal link between bilingualism and inhibitory control, the more individuals are exposed to a foreign language, the more efficient their inhibitory control should be [5].

In the present study we tested whether the efficiency of inhibitory control improves as a consequence of foreign language training. We compared performance of two groups of participants in the Eriksen Flanker task, in a longitudinal design. The experimental group consisted of 27 Polish students who were enrolled in a partial immersion English program at high school. The control group consisted of 31 Polish high school students learning English only as a foreign language. The LexTALE test was used to collect information on participants’ language proficiency. Both groups were tested three times, with at least 7-month breaks between the testing sessions.

In each testing session we collected behavioral and ERP data. We measured a magnitude of the flanker effect (incongruent minus congruent condition) in RTs and error rates. If intensive language training improves the inhibitory control, we should observe a reduction in the magnitude of the flanker effect across the testing sessions in the experimental group, but to a lesser extent in the control group. Within the ERPs we were interested in the mean amplitude of the N2 component. This early negativity increases in the amplitude with increased inhibitory control demands (with incongruent trials in the Eriksen Flanker Task). If intensive language training improves the inhibitory control, we should observe differences in the N2 effect between the groups and sessions. The behavioral data showed a significant flanker effect in all three testing sessions (RTs p<.001; accuracy p<.001). The flanker effect was more prominent in the first testing session, compared to the second and third sessions (ps<.001). Although the flanker effect changed across the testing sessions, the magnitude of reduction was the same for both groups. ERP data revealed a frontal positivity for incongruent trials followed by P3b component, but there were no differences between the groups and between the sessions. Taken together, the present data probably reflects age-related cognitive development, rather than the development of inhibitory control induced by intensive training in the L2. The data will be discussed in the light of the ongoing debate about bilingual benefits in inhibitory control domain.



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