Skip to main content

Bilingual advantage in attentional control: Evidence from the forced-attention dichotic listening paradigm*


It has been claimed that due to their experience in controlling two languages, bilinguals exceed monolinguals in certain executive functions, especially inhibition of task-irrelevant stimuli. Here we investigated the effects of bilingualism on an executive phonological task, namely the forced-attention dichotic listening task with syllabic stimuli. In the standard non-forced (NF) condition, the participants reported all syllables they heard, be it from the right or the left ear. In the forced-right (FR) and forced-left (FL) attention conditions, they had to direct their attention to either the right- or the left-ear stimulus and inhibit information coming to the other ear. We tested Finnish monolinguals and early simultaneous Finnish–Swedish bilinguals from two age groups: (30–50-year-olds and 60–74-year-olds). The results showed that the bilinguals performed better than the monolinguals in the FR and FL conditions. This supports the idea of a bilingual advantage in directing attention and inhibiting task-irrelevant stimuli.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Anna Soveri, Department of Psychology and Logopedics, Åbo Akademi University, FIN-20500 Turku, Finland
Hide All

This study was funded by a grant from the Joint Committee for Nordic Research Councils in the Humanities and the Social Sciences for a Nordic Center of Excellence (NCoE) in Cognitive Control (Coordinator Prof. Lars Nyberg, Umeå University, Sweden). Anna Soveri was also supported by a grant from Kommerserådet Otto A. Malms Donationsfond. We wish to thank Maria Pörnull for helping us with the data collection. We would also like to thank Dr. Daniel Androver-Roig for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.

Hide All
Andersson, M., Reinvang, I., Wehling, E., Hugdahl, K., & Lundervold, A. J. (2008). A dichotic listening study of attention control in older adults. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 49, 299304.
Bialystok, E. (1999). Cognitive complexity and attentional control in the bilingual mind. Child Development, 70, 636644.
Bialystok, E. (2009). Bilingualism: The good, the bad, and the indifferent. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 12, 311.
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., Klein, R., & Viswanathan, M. (2004). Bilingualism, aging, and cognitive control: Evidence from the Simon task. Psychology and aging, 19, 290303.
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., & Ryan, J. (2006). Executive control in a modified antisaccade task: Effects of aging and bilingualism. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 32, 13411354.
Bialystok, E., Martin, M. M., & Viswanathan, M. (2005). Bilingualism across the lifespan: The rise and fall of inhibitory control. International Journal of Bilingualism, 9, 103119.
Bialystok, E., & Viswanathan, M. (2009). Components of executive control with advantages for bilingual children in two cultures. Cognition, 112, 494500.
Branucci, A., D'Anselmo, A., Martello, F., & Tommasi, L. (2008). Left hemisphere specialization for duration discrimination of musical and speech sounds. Neuropsychologia, 46, 20132019.
Carlson, S. M., & Meltzoff, A. N. (2008). Bilingual experience and executive functioning in young children. Developmental Science, 11, 282298.
Costa, A., Hernández, M., & Sebastián-Gallés, N. (2008). Bilingualism aids conflict resolution: Evidence from the ANT task. Cognition, 106, 5986.
Engle, R. W. (2002). Working memory capacity as executive attention. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11, 1923.
Green, D. W. (1998). Mental control of the bilingual lexico-semantic system. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 1, 6781.
Hakuta, K., & Diaz, R. M. (1985). The relationship between degree of bilingualism and cognitive ability: A critical discussion and some new longitudinal data. In Nelson, K. E. (ed.), Children's language (vol. 5), pp. 319344. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Hugdahl, K. (2000). Lateralization of cognitive processes in the brain. Acta Psychologica, 105, 211235.
Hugdahl, K., & Andersson, L. (1986). The “forced-attention paradigm” in dichotic listening to CV syllables: A comparison between adults and children. Cortex, 22, 417432.
Hugdahl, K., Carlsson, G., & Eichele, T. (2001). Age effects in dichotic listening to consonant–vowel syllables: Interactions with attention. Developmental Neuropsychology, 20, 445457.
Hugdahl, K., Westerhausen, R., Alho, K., Medvedev, S., Laine, M., & Hämäläinen, H. (2009). Attention and cognitive control: Unfolding the dichotic listening story. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 50, 1122.
Jäncke, L., & Shah, N. J. (2002). Does dichotic listening probe temporal lobe functions? Neurology, 58, 736743.
Karlsson, F. (1983). Suomen kielen äänne- ja muotorakenne [The phonological and morphological structure of Finnish]. Juva: WSOY.
Morton, J. B., & Harper, S. N. (2007). What did Simon say? Revisiting the bilingual advantage. Developmental Science, 10, 719726.
Oldfield, R. C. (1971). The assessment and analysis of handedness: The Edinburg Inventory. Neuropsychologia, 9, 97113.
Prior, A., & MacWhinney, B. (2010). A bilingual advantage in task switching. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 13 (2), 253262.
Statistics Finland (2001). Classification of Occupations 2001. (retrieved June 15, 2009).
The Swedish Assembly of Finland (n.d.). Swedish in Finland. (retrieved June 15, 2009).
Takio, F., Koivisto, M., Jokiranta, L., Rashid, F., Kallio, J., Tuominen, T., Laukka, S., & Hämäläinen, H. (2009). The effect of age on attentional modulation in dichotic listening. Developmental Neuropsychology, 34, 225239.
Tallus, J., Hugdahl, K., Alho, K., Medvedev, S., & Hämäläinen, H. (2007). Interaural intensity difference and ear advantage in listening to dichotic consonant–vowel syllable pairs. Brain Research, 1185, 195200.
Thomsen, T., Rimol, L. M., Ersland, L., & Hugdahl, K. (2004). Dichotic listening reveals functional specificity in prefrontal cortex: An fMRI study. NeuroImage, 21, 211218.
Thomsen, T., Specht, K., Hammar, Å., Nyttingnes, J., Ersland, L., & Hugdahl, K. (2004). Brain localization of attentional control in different age groups by combining functional and structural MRI. NeuroImage, 22, 912919.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
  • ISSN: 1366-7289
  • EISSN: 1469-1841
  • URL: /core/journals/bilingualism-language-and-cognition
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed