Home » Abstract » The effects of bilingualism on executive control functions in auditory selective attention

The effects of bilingualism on executive control functions in auditory selective attention

Mairim Melecio-Vazquez, Yasmine Ouchikh, Sara Seweid, Sophia Barrett, Vivien Tartter, and Robert Melara (City College of New York)


Bilingualism; Young adults; Auditory Simon task, Auditory Flanker task; Quick SIN; Auditory selective attention

Bilinguals show gains in performance on executive control tasks compared with monolinguals, the so-called bilingual advantage [1]. Most studies have examined the effects of bilingualism on children [2-5] and older adults [6-9] in visual executive control tasks with relatively little research done in college-aged populations [10-12]. The current study evaluated the bilingual advantage in auditory perception in college-aged students. Previous research had shown that bilinguals are worse than monolinguals at identifying speech in noisy environments [13-14]. Thus, one might predict a monolingual advantage in auditory perception, especially for language stimuli such as speech. This study, however, aimed to look at the effect of executive control functions in auditory selective attention tasks by taking a nonverbal approach, using tones to control for language intelligibility effects. Spanish-English bilinguals and English monolinguals were tested in an auditory Simon task, an auditory flanker, and a task to detect speech signals in noise (QuickSIN). In the auditory Simon, participants identified the pitch of tones in lateral positions, ignoring the spatial location of the target sound. In the auditory flanker, participants judged the pitch of the second of three sequential tones, ignoring the pitch of the two flanking tones. Results indicate a bilingual advantage in suppressing irrelevant spatial and auditory information, as in the auditory Simon. However, there was a monolingual advantage in identifying pitch in the midst of distractors, as in the auditory Flanker and QuickSIN. This suggests that the beneficial effects of bilingualism on executive control functions extends across sensory modalities but is limited to certain conditions.



[1] Biaylstok, E., Craik, F.I.M., Green, D.W., & Gollan, T.H. Bilingual Minds. Psychological Science in the Public Interest.10(3): 89-129, 2009.

[2] Bialystok, E. & Martin, M.M. Attention and inhibition in bilingual children: evidence from the dimensional change card sort task. Developmental Science, 7(3): 325-339, 2004.

[3] Martin-Phee, M. M., & Bialystok, E. The development of two types of inhibitory control in monolingual and bilingual children. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 11(1): 81-93, 2008.

[4] Bialystok, E. & Craik, F. I. M. Cognitive and linguistic processing in the bilingual mind. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19(1): 19-23, 2010.

[5] Barac, R. & Bialystok E. Bilingual effects on cognitive and linguistic development: role of language, cultural background, and education. Child Development, 88(2): 413-422.

[6] Zied, K. M., Phillipe, A., Karine, P., Valerie, H. T., Ghislaine, A., Arnaud, R., & Didier, L.G. Bilingualism and adult differences in inhibitory mechanisms: evidence from a bilingual stroop task. Brain and Cognition, 54(3): 254-256, 2004.

[7] Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., & Freedman, M. Bilingualism as a protection against the onset of symptoms of dementia. Neuropsychologia, 45(2): 459-464, 2007.

[8] Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., Klein, R., & Viswanathan, M. Bilingualism, aging, and   cognitive control: Evidence from the simon task. Psychology and Aging, 19(2): 290-303, 2004.

[9] Bialystok, E. Bilingualism: consequences for mind and brain, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16(4): 240–250, 2012.

[10] Costa, A., Hernandez, M., Costa-Faidella, J., & Sebastian-Galles, N. On the bilingual advantage in conflict processing: now you see it, now you don’t. Cognition, 113(2): 135-149, 2009.

[11] Bialystok, E. Effect of bilingualism and computer video game experience on the simon task. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 60(1): 68-79, 2006.

[12] Paap, K. R., & Greenberg, Z. I. There is no coherent evidence for a bilingual advantage in executive processing. Cognitive Psychology, 66(2): 232-258, 2013.

[13] Rogers C., Lister, J.J., & Febo, D.M. Effects of bilingualism, noise, and reverberation on speech perception by listeners with normal hearing. Applied Psycholinguistics, 27(3): 465-485, 2006.

[14] Tabri, D., Abou Chacra, K.M.,& Pring, T. Speech perception in noise by monolingual, bilingual and trilingual listeners. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 46(4): 411-422, 2011.

Need help with the Commons? Visit our
help page
Send us a message