Effects of Bilingualism on Executive Function

Do bilingual college students have an advantage over their monolingual peers on some executive function tasks?

Project Abstract

A large body of research over the last decade has reported that bilinguals outperform monolinguals on several executive control tasks across age groups, but the results have been inconsistent, especially in young adults. In the current study, we investigate the relationship between bilingualism and executive functions (EFs) by comparing performance of bilingual and monolingual college students (18-26 years old) on three EF tasks that measure inhibition and/or task switching: Simon task, a modified color-word Stroop task, and a modified digit-symbol task. We modified the Stroop and Digit-number tasks to increase their difficulty and address the issue of a ceiling effect, one of the factors which may contribute to the controversies over bilingual advantages in EFs. Treating bilingualism as a categorical variable is common in existing bilingual research, and another contributing factor to the inconsistent outcomes of bilingualism research. Participants in the current study complete a language profile questionnaire and an English vocabulary test. Variations in bilingual participants’ language profile (e.g., proficiency level and frequency usage) are used to assess the correlation between bilingual experience and performance EF tasks. Data collection is continuing into the fall semester. To examine the effects of bilingualism on EFs we plan to compare the performance of monolinguals and bilinguals on the three EF tasks, and to correlate some language variables among bilinguals (e.g., age of acquisition, proficiency and usage) to their performance on the EF tasks.

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