A study of possible pre-cognitive advantages of bilingualism

Marisela Gutierrez, University of Texas at El Paso


Past research has suggested that second language acquisition has a beneficial effect on the development of inhibitory control processes in children and adults. This has been referred to as the “bilingual advantage” and is most commonly quantified using the Simon task. Whether the bilingual advantage extends to precognitive mechanisms has not yet been examined. The goals of this study were to examine the bilingual advantage in university students; and to examine whether the bilingual advantage extends to the precognitive filtering mechanism of sensorimotor gating. It was predicted that, as compared to monolinguals, bilingual university students would have greater inhibitory control, as exhibited by lower error rate and smaller RT difference between congruent and incongruent trials, and a smaller “Simon effect.” With regard to sensorimotor gating, it was predicted that as compared to monolinguals, bilinguals would have greater eye blink startle inhibition. The study included 145 undergraduate participants (mean age 20.1 years), all of whom completed a language background questionnaire, the Simon task and a standard startle inhibition paradigm. Planned analyses that grouped participants by self-report of bilingual ability showed no support for the hypotheses. In exploratory analyses participants were categorized by mean age of second language acquisition and a trend effect was found. Among female participants who acquired a second language during the years of rapid prefrontal pathway development (ages 5–8) startle inhibition was greater (p = .06). Future studies should focus on investigating whether the bilingual advantage extends to brain pathways that contribute to attention, orientation, and conflict resolution; or other behavioral functions that are guided by inhibitory control pathways. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Clinical|Psychology, Cognitive|Psychology, Physiological

Recommended Citation

Gutierrez, Marisela, "A study of possible pre-cognitive advantages of bilingualism" (2009). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI1473867.