Bilingual brains show enhanced attentional control

Summary: Speaking two languages ​​can improve attentional control and information filtering.

Researchers examined how bilingual and monolingual individuals process incoming information. Bilinguals demonstrated efficiency in ignoring irrelevant information, which could be attributed to their constant language switching.

The study highlights the need for greater consistency in research on bilingualism and cognition and emphasizes that bilingualism offers various benefits, regardless of cognitive differences.


  1. Improved attention control of bilinguals: The study found that bilingual individuals showed better attentional control, particularly when ignoring irrelevant information, compared to monolinguals. This ability may come from the constant need to switch between languages.
  2. Unique research approach: The researchers used a new task called the partial repetition cost task to measure participants’ information processing and attention control abilities. This task has not been applied previously in psycholinguistic studies.
  3. Cognitive adaptation: The study highlights that cognitive traits, including attentional control, are adaptable and can change over time depending on external factors. This suggests that being bilingual is one of those factors that can influence cognitive processes.

Source; University of Florida

According to a study published this month in the journal Bilingualism: language and cognition.

The study examined differences between bilingual and monolingual individuals in attentional control and ignoring information that is not important at the time, said its authors Grace deMeurisse, a Ph.D. at the University of Florida. candidate studying linguistics, and Edith Kaan, a UF professor in the linguistics department.

“Our results showed that bilinguals appear to be more effective at ignoring irrelevant information, rather than suppressing or inhibiting information,” deMeurisse said. “One explanation for this is that bilinguals are constantly switching between languages ​​and have to shift their attention away from the language they are not using.”

For example, if a person speaking English and Spanish is having a conversation in Spanish, both languages ​​are active, but English is put on hold but still ready to be deployed if necessary.

Many studies have looked at distinctions between the two groups in broad cognitive mechanisms, which are mental processes used by our brains, such as memory, attention, problem solving and decision making, deMeurisse said.

“The effects of speaking two languages ​​on a person’s cognitive control are often debated,” she said. “Some literature claims that these differences are not that pronounced, but this could be due to the tasks that linguists do to look for differences between bilinguals and monolinguals.”

DeMeurisse and Kaan sought to see if any differences between the two groups would emerge and used a task that had never been applied in psycholinguistics before, called the partial repetition cost task, to measure participants’ abilities to manage information. incoming and to control their attention.

“We found that bilinguals seem better able to ignore irrelevant information,” Kaan said.

The two groups of subjects included functional monolinguals and bilinguals. Functional monolinguals were defined as those who have had two years or less of foreign language experience in the classroom and who use only the first language they learned as a child.

Bilinguals were classified as people who learned their first and second languages ​​before the age of 9 to 12 and still used both languages.

Kaan explained that an individual’s cognitive traits continually adapt to external factors and that as humans, we have very few traits that remain fixed throughout our lives.

“Our cognition continually adapts to the situation, so in this case it adapts to being bilingual,” she said. “That doesn’t mean it won’t change, so if you stop using the second language, your cognition may change as well.”

The UF study demonstrates the need for greater consistency across the various experiences used to understand the differences between those who speak one language and those who speak multiple languages.

“In the study of bilingualism and cognition, we are redefining how we talk about the differences between bilinguals and monolinguals and looking for more factors to consider and more methods to conduct this research,” deMeurisse said.

The researchers also clearly emphasized that their study was not intended to show that people who speak two or more languages ​​have an advantage over those who speak one.

“We’re not looking for pros or cons,” deMeurisse said. “However, regardless of cognitive differences, learning a second language will always be something that can benefit you, whether those benefits are cognitive, social, or environmental. It will never be negative to be exposed to a second language.

About this news from research in language and neuroscience

Author: Karen Dooley
Source: University of Florida
Contact: Karen Dooley – University of Florida
Picture: Image is credited to Neuroscience News

Original research: Free access.
“Bilingual attentional control: evidence from the partial repetition cost paradigm” by Grace deMeurisse et al. Bilingualism: language and cognition


Bilingual attentional control: Evidence from the partial repetition cost paradigm.

The effects of bilingual language experience on cognitive control are still debated. A recent proposal is that being bilingual improves attentional control. This is based on studies showing smaller effects of the nature of the previous trial on the current trial in bilinguals (Grundy et al., 2017).

However, performance on such tasks can also be explained by lower-level processes such as binding and unbinding of stimulus and response features. The present study used a partial repetition cost paradigm to explicitly test whether linguistic experience can affect such processes.

The results showed that the responses of bilinguals and monolinguals did not differ when stimulus features were task-relevant. However, bilinguals had lower partial repetition costs when the features were task-irrelevant.

These results suggest that linguistic experience does not affect lower-level processes and support the idea that bilinguals exhibit increased attentional disengagement.

Gn Health

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