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Bilingualism enhances attentional control in non-verbal conflict tasks – evidence from ex-Gaussian analyses*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 September 2016

School of Psychology, University of Birmingham
School of Psychology, University of Birmingham
Address for correspondence: Andrea Krott, School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, B15 2TT,


Bilinguals have been found to possess cognitive advantages. But the nature of this advantage is unclear. While some evidence suggests that bilinguals have developed enhanced inhibitory control abilities, other evidence suggests that they possess enhanced attentional control abilities. In the current study, English monolingual and English–Chinese bilingual young adults were tested in three non-verbal conflict tasks (Flanker task, Spatial Stroop task and Simon task). Ex-Gaussian analyses were utilized to inspect response time distributions. The two participant groups showed comparable effects of stimulus-response congruency on the Gaussian part of response distributions (μ), but different effects on the distribution tails (τ), with reduced tails for bilingual speakers particularly in the more demanding incongruent condition. These results suggest that bilingual advantage emerges from better sustained attention and attentional monitoring rather than inhibition. We also discuss the usefulness of ex-Gaussian analyses.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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This research had been supported by a Small Grant from the Experimental Psychology Society. We would like to thank the Astronomy Club and the Social Service Team of the Chinese University of Hong Kong for providing their meeting rooms for testing. We are also grateful to Dr. Chi-Shing Tse for useful tips on ex-Gaussian analysis. Last but not least, we thank the anonymous reviewers for insightful comments to improve the quality of this manuscript.


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