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, 19 (12), 1201-6

The Source of Enhanced Cognitive Control in Bilinguals: Evidence From Bimodal Bilinguals

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The Source of Enhanced Cognitive Control in Bilinguals: Evidence From Bimodal Bilinguals

Karen Emmorey et al. Psychol Sci.

Abstract

Bilinguals often outperform monolinguals on nonverbal tasks that require resolving conflict from competing alternatives. The regular need to select a target language is argued to enhance executive control. We investigated whether this enhancement stems from a general effect of bilingualism (the representation of two languages) or from a modality constraint that forces language selection. Bimodal bilinguals can, but do not always, sign and speak at the same time. Their two languages involve distinct motor and perceptual systems, leading to weaker demands on language control. We compared the performance of 15 monolinguals, 15 bimodal bilinguals, and 15 unimodal bilinguals on a set of flanker tasks. There were no group differences in accuracy, but unimodal bilinguals were faster than the other groups; bimodal bilinguals did not differ from monolinguals. These results trace the bilingual advantage in cognitive control to the unimodal bilingual's experience controlling two languages in the same modality.

Figures

Fig. 1
Fig. 1
Sample stimuli used in the control and flanker tasks. On control trials, a single red chevron pointed either left or right. These trials provided baseline response times. Four kinds of flanker trials were presented. On go trials, a central red chevron was flanked by four red diamonds, two on each side. On no-go trials, the chevron was flanked by four red Xs. On congruent trials, distractor chevrons pointed in the same direction as the target red chevron. On incongruent trials, distractor chevrons pointed in the opposite direction as the target red chevron.
Fig. 2
Fig. 2
Mean response times (RTs) for monolinguals and unimodal and bimodal bilinguals for each trial type. Participants were asked to judge whether a target chevron pointed to the left or to the right. In control trials, a single red chevron was pointing either left or right. In go trials, the red chevron pointed either left or right and was flanked by four red diamonds (two on each side). In congruent trials, distractors pointed in the same direction as the target red chevron. In incongruent trials, distractors pointed in the opposite direction as the target red chevron. Error bars show 1 SD.

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