Bilingualism Alters the Neural Correlates of Sustained Attention

Ashley Chung-Fat-Yim*, Susan C. Bobb, Noriko Hoshino, Viorica Marian

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The present study examined whether monolingual and bilingual language experience—including first and second language proficiency, exposure, and age of acquisition—modify the neural mechanisms of attention during nonverbal sound discrimination. English monolinguals and Korean–English bilinguals performed an auditory two-stimulus oddball task while their electroencephalogram was recorded. Participants heard a series of two different tones (high-pitch tone vs. low-pitch tone), one of which occurred less frequently (deviant trials) than the other (standard trials), and were asked tomentally count the number of infrequent tones.We found that in the early time window, bilinguals had larger amplitudes than monolinguals in response to both standard and deviant trials, suggesting that bilinguals initially increased attention to identify which of the two tones they heard. In the later timewindow, however, bilinguals had a smaller event-related potential (ERP) effect (deviant minus standard trials) relative to monolinguals, suggesting that bilinguals used fewer cognitive resources for the infrequent stimuli at later stages of processing. Furthermore, across the entire sample, increased exposure to the native language led to larger early, middle, and late ERP effects. These results suggest that native language exposure shapes perceptual processes involved in detection and monitoring. Knowing more than one language may alter sustained attentional processes, with implications for perception and learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalTranslational Issues in Psychological Science
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • auditory oddball paradigm
  • bilingualism
  • event-related potentials
  • sustained attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)


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