To be a bilingual individual means to have the privilege of speaking two languages fluently; a benefit being, the ability to adapt rapidly in different environments. It has been shown that children from bilingual homes have the ability to shift their visual attention more frequently, and are able to shift their attention from one stimulus to another, in a short period of time. However, it is largely unknown if this advantage is restricted to children or if it can also be found in adults.
Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University conducted a study which aimed to reveal if bilingual adults, like bilingual infants, disengage attention faster and switch attention more frequently than their monolingual peers. The study was focused on the attention spans of bilingual adults who had been exposed to at least two languages from early childhood, comparing them to that of bilingual adults who had learned a second language in their adult life.
How was the Study conducted?
There were 127 adult participants in this study, 92 were bilingual and 35 spoke one language. Two experiments took place in this study.
Experiment 1 had a ‘gap-overlap task’: here the participants’ ability to disengage from one visual stimulus and engage in another was measured. There were three conditions in each trial: baseline, gap and overlap.
In each condition there was a flickering carton presented to the participants on the screen which disappeared after 0.6-.07 seconds. In the baseline condition, this flickering carton was immediately replaced by an ‘animated target’. Contrastingly, in the gap condition, there was a 0.2 second delay before this particular replacement. Finally, in the overlap condition, the first animated cartoon did not disappear but stopped flickering and moved left or right. This was repeated for a maximum of 60 trials per participant.
Experiment 2 had ‘the graded change detection task’: this task was carried out to determine if participants who are bilingual would shift their attention more frequently than the monolingual participants. It was also carried out to determine if they would be more or less sensitive to differences shown in the visual stimuli, in comparison to their monolingual counterparts.
This experiment had 15 trials per participant. A trial had an ‘attention grabbing’ image on the screen which was replaced by two-line drawings after 1 second on the left and right side of the screen. These line drawings would remain on the screen for 5 seconds.
As the trials progressed one of the line drawings on one side would gradually change from a man’s head to a woman holding flowers. Half of the total participants saw this change in the left side of the screen whereas the other half saw this change on the right side of the screen.
What did the Study find?
In Experiment 1, between monolingual and bilingual participants, the study found that there was no difference in their abilities to disengage from the visual stimuli. However, between bilinguals who had been exposed to another language at a young age in comparison to bilinguals who had learned another language at an older age, there was a smaller gap effect between these two groups. This led researchers to suggest that participants who were exposed to another language at an early age had faster disengagement times in comparison to participants who learned another language later on in life.
Experiment 2 showed the researchers that participants who had been exposed to other languages at an early age, were more advanced at detecting changes in the visual stimulus than the bilingual participants who learned another language later on in life.
Overall, the researchers discovered that unlike infants from a bilingual environment, adults who were exposed to another language at an early stage in their lives ‘do not switch attention more frequently’, but disengage their attention at a faster rate than adults who learned another language later on in life.
This study highlights some of the benefits afforded to those who are bilingual, in comparison to those who were raised in a monolingual home. These benefits are more advanced in those who learnt another language at an early stage of life.
Therefore, it’s safe to say that if you are bilingual and have been from a young age you have the ability to disengage from visual stimulus and detect changes at a quicker rate than those who learned a different language later on in life!
Original Source –
D’Souza, D., Brady, D., Haensel, J.X. et al. Early bilingual experience is associated with change detection ability in adults. Sci Rep 11, 2068 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-81545-5
Featured Image – Pexels, RF._.studio
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