How Does Bilingualism Improve Executive Control? A Comparison of Active and Reactive Inhibition Mechanisms

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Abstract

It has been claimed that bilingualism enhances inhibitory control, but the available evidence is equivocal. The authors evaluated several possible versions of the inhibition hypothesis by comparing monolinguals and bilinguals with regard to stop signal performance, inhibition of return, and the attentional blink. These three phenomena, it can be argued, tap into different aspects of inhibition. Monolinguals and bilinguals did not differ in stop signal reaction time and thus were comparable in terms of active-inhibitory efficiency. However, bilinguals showed no facilitation from spatial cues, showed a strong inhibition of return effect, and exhibited a more pronounced attentional blink. These results suggest that bilinguals do not differ from monolinguals in terms of active inhibition but have acquired a better ability to maintain action goals and to use them to bias goal-related information. Under some circumstances, this ability may indirectly lead to more pronounced reactive inhibition of irrelevant information.

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