Eye Movements and the Perceptual Span During First- and Second-Language Sentence Reading in Bilingual Older Adults

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Abstract

This study addressed a central yet previously unexplored issue in the psychological science of aging, namely, whether the advantages of healthy aging (e.g., greater lifelong experience with language) or disadvantages (e.g., decreases in cognitive and sensory processing) drive L1 and L2 reading performance in bilingual older adults. To this end, we used a gaze-contingent moving window paradigm to examine both global aspects of reading fluency (e.g., reading rates, number of regressions) and the perceptual span (i.e., allocation of visual attention into the parafovea) in bilingual older adults during L1 and L2 sentence reading, as a function of individual differences in current L2 experience. Across the L1 and L2, older adults exhibited reduced reading fluency (e.g., slower reading rates, more regressions), but a similar perceptual span compared with matched younger adults. Also similar to matched younger adults, older adults’ reading fluency was lower for L2 reading than for L1 reading as a function of current L2 experience. Specifically, greater current L2 experience increased L2 reading fluency, but decreased L1 reading fluency (for global reading measures only). Taken together, the dissociation between intact perceptual span and impaired global reading measures suggests that older adults may prioritize parafoveal processing despite age-related encoding difficulties. Consistent with this interpretation, post hoc analyses revealed that older adults with higher versus lower executive control were more likely to adopt this strategy.

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