, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 320-327

Spatial negative priming in bilingualism

Abstract

Balanced bilinguals have been shown to have an enhanced ability to inhibit distracting information. In this study, we investigated the hypothesis that the bilinguals’ efficiency in inhibitory control can be advantageous in some conditions, but disadvantageous in others—for example, negative priming conditions, in which previously irrelevant information becomes relevant. Data collected in a target-stimulus locating task from 29 early bilingual adults and 29 age-matched monolinguals showed that the bilinguals’ greater inhibition of irrelevant spatial information (i.e., the position of a distractor stimulus) resulted in a smaller effect of the distractor presence (i.e., a smaller difference in error rates in trials with and without distractors) and a larger negative priming effect (i.e., a larger difference between the error rates shown in trials wherein the target position corresponded to the position of the previous-trial distractor and trials wherein the target was presented in a previously vacant position). These findings support the hypothesis of specific nonlinguistic cognitive effects of bilingualism on inhibitory control functions, which are not necessarily reflected in cognitive advantages.

This research was supported by a grant from the Development Trust Research Fund of the University of Edinburgh awarded to A.S. and S.D.S.