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Development of L2 language proficiency, cross-language interaction, and executive functions in child L2 learners, bilinguals, and trilinguals: Parallel development trajectories?

Greg Poarch (University of Münster) & Janet van Hell (Penn State University & Radboud University Nijmegen)


Executive functions; Simon task; ANT; Bilinguals; Trilinguals; Second language learners; Cross-language activation

This talk combines two studies on cross-language interaction and executive functions in child L2 learners, and bilingual and multilingual children (1,2) and builds empirically on the emerging data on cross-language interaction during lexical access in adult bilinguals (e.g., 3, 4) and findings of enhanced cognitive functions in conflict resolution tasks (Simon Task; Attentional Networks Task) in child bilinguals compared to monolinguals (e.g., 5, 6, 7). In Study 1, using a picture naming paradigm with cognate manipulation, a bidirectional cognate facilitation effect was found in bilinguals and trilinguals but not in child L2 learners, in whom only the stronger L1 influenced the weaker L2. In Study 2, the Simon effect advantage differed across groups with bilinguals and trilinguals showing enhanced conflict resolution over monolinguals and marginally so over second language learners. In the ANT, the bilinguals and trilinguals displayed enhanced conflict resolution over second language learners. As enhanced executive functions in bilingual children are assumed to stem from their permanent need to monitor, control, and shift between two languages, and that bidirectional cross-language activation is modulated by relative language proficiency and use, one may assume that both cross-language activation and cognitive control develop in parallel along the same trajectory. Thus viewed together, the results of both studies may indicate parallel development of relative language proficiency and corresponding cross-language activation, on the one hand, and an enhanced development of executive functions, on the other hand.



[1] Poarch, G. J., & Van Hell, J. G. Cross-language activation in children’s speech production: Evidence from second language learners, bilinguals, and trilinguals. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 111:419–438, 2012a.

[2] Poarch, G. J., & Van Hell, J. G. Executive functions and inhibitory control in multilingual children: Evidence from second language learners, bilinguals, and trilinguals. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 113:535–551, 2012b.

[3] Costa, A., La Heij, W., & Navarrete, E. The dynamics of bilingual lexical access. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 9:137–151, 2006.

[4] Kroll, J. F., Sumutka, B. M., & Schwartz, A. I. A cognitive view of the bilingual lexicon: Reading and speaking words in two languages. International Journal of Bilingualism. 9:27–48, 2005.

[5] Carlson, S. M. & Meltzoff, A. N. Bilingual experience and executive functioning in young children. Developmental Science, 11:282–298, 2008.

[6] Martin-Rhee, M. M., & Bialystok, E. The development of two types of inhibitory control in monolingual and bilingual children. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 11:81–93, 2008.

[7] Yang, S., Yang, H., & Lust, B. Early childhood bilingualism leads to advances in executive attention: Dissociating culture and language. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 14:412–422, 2011.

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.



[1] Bialystok, Ellen, Barac, Raluca. Emerging bilingualism: Dissociating advantages for metalinguistic awareness and executive control. Cognition, 122:67-73, 2012.

[2] Carlson, A. M., Meltzoff, A. N. Bilingual experience and executive functioning in

young children. Developmental Science, 11(2):282-298, 2008.

[3] Engel de Abreu, P. M, J. et al. Bilingualism Enriches the Poor: Enhanced Cognitive Control in Low-Income Minority Children. Psychological Science, 23(11):1364-71, 2012.

[4] Fan, J. et al. Testing the efficiency and independence of attentional networks. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 14(3):340-347, 2002.

[5] Porch, G. J., van Hell, J., G. Executive functions and inhibitory control in multilingual children: Evidence from second-language learners, bilinguals, and trilinguals. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 113(4):535-551, 2012.

[6] Rueda, M. R., et al. Development of attentional networks in childhood. Neuropsychologia, 42: 1029 – 1040, 2004.

[7] Yang, S., Yang, H., Lust, B.. Early childhood bilingualism leads to advances in executive attention: Dissociating culture and language. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 14:412-422, 2011.

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.



[1] Bialystok, E., Barac, R. Emerging bilingualism: Dissociating advantages for metalinguistic awareness and executive control. Cognition, 122: 67-73, 2012.

[2] Bialystok E., Craik, F. I., Klein, R., Viswanathan, M. Bilingualism, aging, and cognitive control: evidence from the Simon task. Psychology and Aging, 19: 290–303, 2004.

[3] Duñabeitia, J.A., Hernández, J.A., Antón, E., Macizo, P., Estévez, A., Fuentes, L.J., Carreiras, M. The inhibitory advantage in bilingual children revisited: myth or reality? Experimental Psychology, 61(3): 234-251, 2014.

[5] Nicolay, A. C., Poncelet, M. Cognitive advantage in children enrolled in a second-language immersion elementary school program for three years. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 16: 597-607, 2013.

[6] 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.

Language control and nonlinguistic shifting skills in bilingual children

Megan Gross & Margarita Kaushanskaya (University of Wisconsin – Madison)


Language control; Cross-language errors; Task-shifting; Mixing costs; Switching costs; Executive function; Child bilingualism; English-Spanish; Picture naming

To communicate effectively with a variety of conversation partners, bilinguals must develop language control, the ability to adjust their language choice based on the situation. This ability to switch between languages and control interference from the language-not-in-use has been associated with task-shifting in adult bilinguals (e.g., Prior & Gollan, 2011). However, it remains unclear at what level of lexical selection domain-general task-shifting skills may be recruited for language control. The goal of the current study was to examine the relationship between the shifting component of executive function and language control, as measured at different levels, in bilingual children.

The study included 68 English-Spanish bilingual children, ages 5-7. Language control was assessed with a timed picture-naming paradigm. Children named pictures in English or Spanish, according to an auditory cue, in a single-language context (English-only; Spanish-only) and a mixed-language context in which the cued language varied unpredictably. Language control was measured at two levels. Cross-language errors, when children responded in the opposite language from the cue, indicated a failure of language control. For correct responses, increased naming latency indexed how taxing it was for children to successfully exert language control. At both levels, two kinds of costs were assessed: mixing costs (performance in a mixed-language vs. single-language context) and switching costs (performance when switching languages vs. staying in the same language during the mixed condition). The shifting component of executive function was measured with the Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS; Zelazo, 2006). The DCCS required children to sort colored squares and circles first by color, then by shape, and then to switch between sorting rules during a mixed phase. Accuracy during the mixed phase indexed shifting.

Mixed-effects analyses of cross-language errors revealed both mixing costs (b=2.30, t=2.81), and switching costs (b=1.08, t=2.56). Children were more likely to make cross-language errors in a mixed-language than a single-language context, and within the mixed context they were more likely to make cross-language errors when they were cued to switch languages. Children with better shifting (DCCS performance) were less likely to produce cross-language errors overall (b=-0.056, z=-5.48); this effect did not vary by context or switch status. Naming latency analyses revealed significant mixing costs (b=0.19, t=6.64) but no significant switching costs. The effect of DCCS performance on naming speed was modulated by an interaction with context (b=0.003, t=1.97), with a significant effect of DCCS in the single-language but not the mixed-language context. DCCS performance did not explain any additional variance in the switch-cost analysis of the mixed-language condition.

Together, these findings suggest that nonlinguistic shifting skills contribute to language control at the level of selecting the correct language. Once the correct language is selected, more nuanced costs in speed may be localized to the language system.

Context-dependent bilingual advantages: Roles of language and working memory

Grace Cannon & Hanako Yoshida (University of Houston)


Child development; Bilingualism; Task-switching; Working memory; Semantic processing; Cross-modality cueing

Previous research concerning bilingual and monolingual differences is inconsistent in findings of bilingual advantages across different types of cognitive control (CC) tasks (1). Certain studies indicate that differences in CC occur solely due to working memory (WM) ability, not bilingualism (2), while others maintain that the bilingual experience provides a specific advantage to CC beyond other influences (3). Advantages found in bilingual CC are attributed to language-specific processes, including attention, inhibition, and switching in multiple languages (4). Thus, these advantages may be affected by CC tasks that provide different amounts of language information. The goals of the current research are (1) Examine CC differences in monolingual and bilingual children receiving varied on-line language input within a task; and (2) Identify relationships of verbal and nonverbal WM with CC as language input varies.

The current study varied language input by manipulating the Semantic, Visual, and Auditory content in four conditions of the Dimensional Change Card Sort (DCCS; 5), which has demonstrated a robust bilingual advantage in many previous studies (6): Nonsemantic (Shape/Color sorting), Visual-Semantic (Kind/Color sorting with pictures of foods and animals), Auditory-Semantic (Kind/Color sorting with spoken names), and Both-Semantic Visual and Auditory (Kind/Color with pictures and names). Verbal and Spatial WM were also tested to examine alternative explanations for bilingual differences. We tested 26 4-5 year old children, who tend to have difficulty with switching between sorting types (e.g., Shape/Color) in a mixed block. Importantly, this age group has primarily had language input in the auditory domain, so auditory information is particularly important to the development of any bilingual advantages up to this point. We hypothesized that (1) Task-specific language input will interact with bilingualism: Bilinguals will show the greatest CC advantage when given only verbal information; and (2) Verbal and non-verbal WM will predict CC only for tasks that involve the same domain.

Results showed a bilingual advantage in switching costs between incongruent and congruent trials. However, this occurred due to higher monolingual accuracy on congruent trials, not any bilingual advantage on incongruent trials. Language-input condition predicted accuracy on congruent trials: children were more accurate on Visual- and Auditory-Semantic conditions compared to Both-Semantic and Nonsemantic conditions.

Verbal WM predicted higher accuracy for congruent trials. Spatial WM interacted with Language-input condition for reaction time (RT) on incongruent trials, but not on congruent trials, when testing only accurate trials; Spatial WM also interacted with DCCS condition for RT trial switch cost when all trials were included; Better spatial WM predicted slower incongruent RT and larger RT costs for the Nonsemantic condition, but not for any of the three Semantic (language-based) conditions.

Implications are discussed in terms of understanding mechanisms of bilingual differences and relationships between language, cognitive control, and working memory.



[1] Poulin-Dubois, D., Blaye, A., Coutya, J., & Bialystok, E. The effects of bilingualism on toddlers’ executive functioning. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 108:567-579, 2011.

[2] Namazi, M. & Thordardottir, E. A working memory, not bilingual advantage, in controlled attention. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 13(5),597-616, 2010.

[3] Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M, & Luk, G. Lexical access in bilinguals: Effects of vocabulary size and executive control. Journal of Neurolinguistics 21(6):522-538, 2008.

[4] Hilchey, M. D. & Klein, R. M. Are there bilingual advantages on nonlinguistic interference tasks? Implications for the plasticity of executive control processes. Psychonomics Bulletin Review, 18:625-658. 2011.

[5] Frye, D., Zelazo, P. D., & Palfai, T. Theory of mind and rule-based reasoning. Cognitive Development, 10:483-527, 1995.

[6] Carlson, S. M. & Meltzoff, A. M. Bilingual experience and executive functioning in young children. Developmental Science, 11(2):282-298, 2008.

Ambiguity resolution during online sentence comprehension in monolingual and bilingual children

Tatyana Levari (Harvard University) & Jesse Snedeker (Harvard University)


Garden-path sentences, Syntactic ambiguity, Referential ambiguity, On-line sentence comprehension; Executive Function; Visual world paradigm

Monolingual and bilingual children differ in their language learning environments. Bilinguals split their exposure between two languages, resulting in less experience with each, and have a greater need to monitor language use, possibly leading to a bilingual executive functioning (EF) advantage. In the current study we investigate how these differences affect the development of online sentence comprehension.

Children through age 10 often fail to use top-down information to guide sentence parsing, and subsequently fail to revise their interpretations following inconsistent information. One hypothesis is that these abilities develop with improvements in domain-general EF [1]. Alternatively, these changes may reflect cumulative language experience. Although 5-year-olds have acquired the relevant linguistic structures, they continue to gain processing fluency [2].

In the current study, monolingual and bilingual children (ages 5-7) were given an EF battery, measures of language proficiency (vocabulary and receptive grammar), and a test of syntactic ambiguity resolution, adapted from Trueswell et al (1999) [3]. Participants heard ambiguous and unambiguous sentences (Ambiguity Condition) (e.g. “put the frog [that’s] on the napkin in the box”) while looking at a display containing relevant images, including either 1 or 2 referents for the first noun (Reference Condition).

Preliminary results (n = 37; 20 monolingual; 17 bilingual matched for age, nonverbal IQ and SES) confirm that monolinguals show higher scores on receptive vocabulary (p < 0.05) and grammar (p = 0.05). Despite robust differences between conflict and non-conflict trials, we found no bilingual EF advantage in any of the four EF tasks. Gaze data demonstrates that bilingual children make better use of contextual information. Specifically, in the 2-Referent Ambiguous condition, bilinguals, but not monolinguals, interpret the ambiguous phrase, on the napkin, as a modifier of the object, frog. Specifically, upon hearing the noun (frog), bilinguals look significantly more to the target animal (frog on the napkin), while monolinguals look equally at both the target and non-target animals (p < 0.05). However, monolingual and bilingual participants do not differ in their actions, producing similar numbers of garden-path errors.

Bilingual children show better use of top-down information, despite weaker English language skills. However, the bilingual’s advantage in sentence comprehension is unlikely to reflect differences in EF, since both groups performed equally on all EF measures. We suggest that bilingual children, over the course of language acquisition, may need to rely more on contextual information making them more aware of how language is influenced by context.



[1] Mazuka,R., Jincho,N., & Oishi,H.(2009). Development of executive control and language processing. Language and Linguistics Compass,3(1),59-89.

[2] Fernald,A., Perfors,A., & Marchman,V.A.(2006). Picking up speed in understanding: Speech processing efficiency and vocabulary growth across the 2nd year. Developmental psychology,42(1),98.

[3] Trueswell,J.C., Sekerina,I., Hill,N.M., & Logrip,M.L.(1999). The kindergarten-path effect: Studying on-line sentence processing in young children. Cognition,73(2),89-134.

Executive Function Predictors of Learners’ Language Processing: A Training Study

Lucia Pozzan, Kristina Woodard, & John C. Trueswell (University of Pennsylvania)


Sentence Processing; L2 processing; Revision; Garden Path sentences; Executive Functions; Cognitive Training; Visual world paradigm

Real time language comprehension and production require focusing on and rapidly integrating multiple sources of information. Growing evidence shows that this process is supported by domain-general executive function (EF) skills. Here we explore whether the ability to process complex sentences in a second language (a) is supported by EF skills and (b) can benefit from EF training.

Over 2 months, 20 Chinese child learners of English played games (www.lumosity.com) aimed at measuring and training EF-skills. Two pre- and post-training sentence processing tasks were also administered. After correcting for age and English proficiency, at pre-test EF skills did not predict performance on canonical (e.g., actives), non-canonical (e.g., passives) and unambiguous structures (e.g., non-reduced relative clauses), but reliably predicted differences in sentence processing for temporarily ambiguous structures requiring revision of initial interpretations (e.g., reduced relative clauses: β = .68, t = 4.09, p<.01). After 2 months, the group who underwent EF-training showed improved sentence processing performance compared to an active control group; this improvement was selective to temporarily ambiguous sentences, compared with unambiguous ones, but was present for both canonical and non-canonical structures. In addition, training-related EF-improvements selectively predicted sentence processing improvements for non-canonical (β = .63, t = 2.91, p=.01) and temporarily ambiguous structures (β = .77, t = 2.93, p=.01), but not for canonical and unambiguous structures.

These results suggest that (a) domain-general EF skills support language processing and (b) training-related gains in domain-general EF skills can transfer to untrained domains (e.g., sentence processing). Such findings represent an important step in identifying the cognitive processes that underlie language processing and development, and the circumstances under which language learners might benefit from domain-general cognitive training.

Bilingualism enhances intra-language competition resolution – Evidence from a response distribution analysis

Beinan Zhou (University of Birmingham, UK) & Andrea Krott (University of Birmingham, UK)

beinan.zhou@gmail.com, a.krott@bham.ac.uk

Bilingual cognitive advantage; Semantic blocking; Lexical selection; Response distribution

It is generally agreed that target and non-target languages in bilingual speakers are concurrently active. This parallel activation poses the need to constantly monitor language production processes. It has been argued that this monitor mechanism recruits a domain general executive control network (e.g. Bialystok & Craik, 2010). As a result, bilingual speakers have been shown to outperform their monolingual counterparts in non-verbal tasks, especially in tasks that require to inhibit task irrelevant information (Bialystok, Craik, Green, & Gollan, 2009). However, little is known as to whether this advantage extends to the control within a language.

In the current study, we investigated whether being bilingual enhances speakers’ intra-language control when facing lexical competition. We utilized the cyclic semantic blocking paradigm (Kroll & Stewart, 1994). In this task participants repeatedly name pictures that are blocked into either same category objects (homogeneous condition, e.g. fish, mouse, snake, duck) or different category objects (heterogeneous condition, e.g. tie, snake, brush, lamp). This paradigm leads to slower responses in homogenous blocks than heterogeneous blocks. This is believed to be due to strong lexical competition in homogenous blocks.

We used ex-Gaussian analysis (Ratcliff, 1979) to inspect the distributions of the response times in different conditions. This analysis provides the mean of the leading edge of a distribution (μ), which represents the majority responses, and the mean/standard deviation of the tail of the distribution (τ), which represents extremely slow responses.

We tested monolingual English speakers, highly proficient English/Chinese bilingual speakers and proficient L2 speakers with English as L1. Results from a conventional analysis of variance of average responses in the two semantic homogeneity conditions suggest that all participants suffered from semantic competition to the same degree. However, the results of the ex-Gaussian analysis showed that the participant groups differed in their response distribution profiles. While monolingual speakers showed an effect of the semantic context only in the Gaussian part (μ) of their response distributions, bilingual and proficient L2 speakers showed an effect only in the exponential part (τ) of their response distributions. We argue that an enhanced top-down control mechanism that inhibits lexical competitors best explains the results.



[1] Bialystok, E., & Craik, F. I. M. (2010). Cognitive and Linguistic Processing in the Bilingual Mind. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19(1), 19-23. doi: 10.1177/0963721409358571

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

[3] Kroll, J. F., & Stewart, E. (1994). Category interference in translation and picture naming: Evidence for asymmetric connection between bilingual memory representations. Journal of Memory and Language, 33(2), 149-174.

[4] Ratcliff, R. (1979). Group reaction-time distributions and an analysis of distribution statistics. Psychological Bulletin, 86(3), 446-461. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.86.3.446

What colour is 赤? Investigating cognitive control in multi-script bilinguals

Santa Vīnerte (University of Ottawa) & Laura Sabourin (University of Ottawa)


Bilingual cognitive control; multi-script bilingualism; logograph processing; Japanese; Stroop task

A growing body of literature suggests that bilingualism affects both our linguistic abilities and our general cognitive abilities. To manage two languages, bilinguals must use cognitive control skills such as attention, inhibition, and task-switching to block one language while using the other. Consequently, there may be general improvement of these skills due to their extensive use in language control. Indeed, previous studies report cognitive control advantages for bilinguals in both linguistic and non-linguistic tasks. The current study investigates whether these advantages are modulated by bilinguals’ knowledge and use of multiple writing systems.

There is evidence for a bilingual advantage for older bilinguals1, more proficient and balanced bilinguals2, and bilinguals who had acquired both languages early in life3, but it is only recently that the bilingual context has been implicated4;it has been suggested that control processes themselves adapt to language environment demands5. The language environment for bilinguals is formed by not only the words heard and spoken, but also by the words read and written. While much research has been done on languages that both use the same script (e.g. alphabet for both English and French), fewer studies have examined cases where one language uses an alphabetic (sound-based) script and the other uses a logographic (semantic-based) script. In the current study, we examine English-Japanese bilinguals and ask 1) Does experience with multiple scripts in the environment modulate cognitive control abilities? and 2) Is the age of acquisition of a logographic scrip a further factor?

We will present pilot data from English-Japanese bilingual participants who completed two experiments: the first examines linguistic processing using a bilingual Stroop task in which English and Japanese colour terms appear in congruent and incongruent conditions. Crucially, we use only kanji logographs to indicate colour terms in our study. The second experiment examines non-linguistic processing using the ANT task in which sets of arrows appear with the central target in either a congruent or incongruent condition. Accuracy and reaction times are recorded and analysed

Japanese logographs have shown considerable semantic interference effects6, and increased naming latencies in cognitive control tasks such as the Stroop test7 compared to alphabetic languages. Following the Dual Route Cascaded model of visual word processing8, we hypothesize different cognitive advantages for alphabetic-logographic bilinguals based on differences in lexical access of each script. We will discuss our preliminary results in light of this model and the idea that the bilingual cognitive control advantage comes about as a result of experience in managing and allocating limited cognitive resources.



[1] Bialystok, E., Craik, F., & Luk, G. (2008). Cognitive control and lexical access in younger and older bilinguals. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 34 (4), 859-873.

[2] Zied, K.M., Philippe, A., Pinon, K., Havet-Thomassin, V., Ghislaine, A., Roy, A., & Le Gall, D. (2004). Bilingualism and adult differences in inhibitory mechanisms: Evidence from a bilingual Stroop task. Brain and Cognition, 54, 254-256.

[3] Tao, L., Marzecová, A., Taft, M., Asanowicz, D., & Wodniecka, Z. (2011). The efficiency of attentional networks in early and late bilinguals: The role of age of acquisition. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 1-19.

[4] Wu, Y.J., & Thierry, G. (2013). Fast modulation of executive function by language context in bilinguals. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(33), 13533-13537.

[5] Green, D.W., & Abutalebi, J. (2013). Language control in bilinguals: the adaptive control hypothesis. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25(5), 515-530.

[6] Verdenschot, R.G., La Heij, W., Paolieri, D., Zhang, Q., & Schiller, N.O. (2011). Homophonic context effects when naming Japanese kanji: evidence for processing costs. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 64(9), 1836-1849.

[7] Fang, S., Ovid, J.L.T., Alva, L. (1981). Intralanguage vs. interlanguage Stroop effects in two types of writing systems. Memory and Cognition, 9 (6), 609-617.

[8] Colheart, M., Rastle, K., Perry, C., Langdon, R., & Ziegler, J.C. (2001). DRC: A dual route cascading model of visual word recognition and reading aloud. Psychological Review, 108, 204-256.

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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