Strengthening cognitive development in minority populations: A study of the beneficial effects of bilingualism

Marisela Gutierrez, University of Texas at El Paso

Abstract

The long-term goal of this research is to better understand and characterize the "bilingual advantage" so that educational and child care institutions begin to recognize and encourage the active use of two languages to strengthen cognitive development in minority populations. The present study is one of the first one to include a very large sample of well-defined "active bilinguals" who, by objective measures, were determined to be bilingual and determined to engage in language switching on a daily basis. Another goal was to manipulate and activate in the laboratory what might be referred to as the "switching benefit." One hundred and twenty English-Spanish active bilinguals (mean age 21.9, SD = 7.0) and 120 English monolinguals (mean age 22.6, SD = 6.4) were evaluated on the Simon Task, Task Switching Task and ANT, alternating with a language switching activation manipulation. There was no bilingual advantage on the Simon Task and the ANT; however the Task Switching Task was able to detect the bilingual advantage. These results supported the idea that switching between stimuli features may closely resemble the type of switching that active bilinguals must do when switching between languages. ^ The administration of the Language Switching Activation manipulation condition immediately prior to the Task Switching Task promoted the ability to shift between mental sets as evidenced by higher accuracy, in monolinguals and active bilinguals. The results from the ANT suggested that the Language Switching Activation manipulation produced an immediate benefit for attention but interestingly, only among active bilinguals. The findings may suggest that the brain pathways that are exercised through years of language switching are altered in such a way that stimulation of these pathways improves alerting and orienting forms of attention. Additional studies are needed to replicate these findings and refine the Language Switching Activation manipulation condition, and to explore ways to further enhance attentional performance of active bilinguals ^ Also, in the exploratory analyses, variables that are known to have an effect on visual perceptual and motor reaction processes in young adults, such as video game playing and non-verbal intelligence, were included. It was found that video game playing may have influenced performance on the Simon Task, suggesting that bilinguals who have video game playing experience responded to the Simon Task significantly faster. Video game playing experience and non-verbal intelligence are factors that appear to have an effect on visual perceptual and motor reaction processes. The exploratory analyses suggested that video game playing experience and non-verbal intelligence are variables that must be included in analyses of the bilingual advantage.^

Subject Area

Education, Bilingual and Multicultural|Psychology, General|Psychology, Cognitive

Recommended Citation

Gutierrez, Marisela, "Strengthening cognitive development in minority populations: A study of the beneficial effects of bilingualism" (2013). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3609486.
http://digitalcommons.utep.edu/dissertations/AAI3609486

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