The relationship between bilingualism and selective attention in young adults: Evidence from an ambiguous figures task

Ashley Chung-Fat-Yim, Geoff B. Sorge, Ellen Bialystok*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations

Abstract

Previous research has shown that bilinguals outperform monolinguals on a variety of tasks that have been described as involving executive functioning, but the precise mechanism for those effects or a clear definition for “executive function” is unknown. This uncertainty has led to a number of studies for which no performance difference between monolingual and bilingual adults has been detected. One approach to clarifying these issues comes from research with children showing that bilinguals were more able than their monolingual peers to perceive both interpretations of an ambiguous figure, an ability that is more tied to a conception of selective attention than to specific components of executive function. The present study extends this notion to adults by assessing their ability to see the alternative image in an ambiguous figure. Bilinguals performed this task more efficiently than monolinguals by requiring fewer cues to identify the second image. This finding has implications for the role of selective attention in performance differences between monolinguals and bilinguals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)366-372
Number of pages7
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Volume70
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 4 2017

Keywords

  • Ambiguous figures
  • Bilingualism
  • Executive function
  • Selective attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Physiology
  • General Psychology

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