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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.



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