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Bilinguals have been shown to outperform monolinguals on word learning and on inhibition tasks that require competition resolution. Yet the scope of such bilingual advantages remains underspecified. We compared bilinguals

Bilinguals have been shown to outperform monolinguals on word learning and on inhibition tasks that require competition resolution. Yet the scope of such bilingual advantages remains underspecified. We compared bilinguals and monolinguals on nonverbal symbolic learning and on competition resolution while processing newly-learned material. Participants were trained on 12 tone-to-symbol mappings, combining timbre, pitch, and duration of tones. During subsequent processing, participants viewed a display with four symbols, and were instructed to identify the symbol that matched a simultaneously-presented tone. On competition trials, two symbols matched the tone in timbre and pitch, but only one matched the tone on timbre, pitch, and duration. No learning differences emerged between 27 Spanish-English bilinguals and 27 English monolinguals, and more successful learners performed better on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary task. During the processing task, competition trials yielded responses with lower accuracies and longer latencies than control trials. Further, in both groups, more successful learning of tone-to-symbol mappings was associated with more successful retrieval during processing. In monolinguals, English receptive vocabulary scores also influenced retrieval efficiency during processing, with English/Spanish vocabulary less related to the novel processing task in bilinguals. Finally, to examine inhibition of competing stimuli, priming probes were presented after each tone-symbol processing trial. These probes suggested that bilinguals, and to a lesser extent monolinguals, showed residual inhibition of competitors at 200 ms post-target identification. Together, findings suggest that learning of novel symbolic information may depend in part on previous linguistic knowledge (not bilingualism per se), and that, during processing of newly-learned material, subtle differences in retrieval and competition resolution may emerge between bilinguals and monolinguals.

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    Date Created
    • 2014-10-16
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    • Digital object identifier: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01147
    • Identifier Type
      International standard serial number
      Identifier Value
      1353-8292

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