Skip to main content Accessibility help

The development of two types of inhibitory control in monolingual and bilingual children*


Previous research has shown that bilingual children excel in tasks requiring inhibitory control to ignore a misleading perceptual cue. The present series of studies extends this finding by identifying the degree and type of inhibitory control for which bilingual children demonstrate this advantage. Study 1 replicated the earlier research by showing that bilingual children perform the Simon task more rapidly than monolinguals, but only on conditions in which the demands for inhibitory control were high. The next two studies compared performance on tasks that required inhibition of attention to a specific cue, like the Simon task, and inhibition of a habitual response, like the day–night Stroop task. In both studies, bilingual children maintained their advantage on tasks that require control of attention but showed no advantage on tasks that required inhibition of response. These results confine the bilingual advantage found previously to complex tasks requiring control over attention to competing cues (interference suppression) and not to tasks requiring control over competing responses (response inhibition).

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Ellen Bialystok, Department of Psychology, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, Ontario, M3J 1P3,
Hide All

The research was funded by a grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) to the second author. We are grateful to Jonathan Lipszyc for his assistance in Study 3.

Hide All
Arriaga, R. I., Fenson, L., Cronan, T. & Pethick, S. J. 1998. Scores on the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory of children from low- and middle-income families. Applied Psycholinguistics, 19, 209223.
Bialystok, E. 1999. Cognitive complexity and attentional control in the bilingual mind. Child Development, 70, 636644.
Bialystok, E. 2001. Bilingualism in development: Language, literacy, and cognition. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Bialystok, E. 2006. Effect of bilingualism and computer video game experience on the Simon task. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 60, 6879.
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., Grady, C., Chau, W., Ishii, R., Gunji, A. & Pantev, C. 2005. Effect of bilingualism on cognitive control in the Simon task: Evidence from MEG. NeuroImage, 24, 4049.
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., Klein, R. & Viswanathan, M. 2004. Bilingualism, aging, and cognitive control: Evidence from the Simon task. Psychology & Aging, 19, 290303.
Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M. & Ryan, J. 2006. Executive control in a modified anti-saccade task: Effects of aging and bilingualism. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 32, 13411354.
Bialystok, E. & Majumder, S. 1998. The relationship between bilingualism and the development of cognitive processes in problem solving. Applied Psycholinguistics, 19, 6985.
Bialystok, E. & Martin, M. M. 2004. Attention and inhibition in bilingual children: Evidence from the dimensional change card sort task. Developmental Science, 7, 325339.
Bialystok, E. & Senman, L. 2004. Executive processes in appearance–reality tasks: The role of inhibition of attention and symbolic representation. Child Development, 75, 562579.
Bialystok, E. & Shapero, D. 2005. Ambiguous benefits: The effect of bilingualism on reversing ambiguous figures. Developmental Science, 8, 595604.
Brysbaert, M. 1998. Word recognition in bilinguals: Evidence against the existence of two separate lexicons. Psychologica Belgica, 38, 163175.
Bunge, S. A., Dudukovic, N. M., Thomason, M. E., Vaidya, C. J. & Gabrieli, J. D. E. 2002. Immature frontal lobe contributions to cognitive control in children: Evidence from fMRI. Neuron, 33, 301311.
Corsi, P. M. 1972 Human memory and the medial temporal region. Dissertation Abstracts International, 34 (02), 891B.
Costa, A., Miozzo, M. & Caramazza, A. 1999. Lexical selection in bilinguals: Do words in the bilingual's two lexicons compete for selection? Journal of Memory and Language, 41, 365397.
Daniels, K., Toth, J. & Jacoby, L. 2006. The aging of executive functions. In Bialystok, E. & Craik, F. I. M. (eds.), Lifespan cognition: Mechanisms of change, pp. 96111. New York: Oxford University Press.
Dempster, F. N. 1992. The rise and fall of the inhibitory mechanism: Toward a unified theory of cognitive development and aging. Developmental Review, 12, 4575.
Diamond, A. 2002. Normal development of prefrontal cortex from birth to young adulthood: Cognitive functions, anatomy, and biochemistry. In Stuss, D. T. & Knight, R. T. (eds.), Principles of frontal lobe function, pp. 466503. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Diamond, A., Kirkham, N. & Amso, D. 2002. Conditions under which young children CAN hold two rules in mind and inhibit a prepotent response. Developmental Psychology, 38, 352362.
Diamond, A., O'Craven, K. M. & Savoy, R. L. 1998. Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex contributions to working memory and inhibition as revealed by fMRI. Society for Neuroscience Abstracts, 24, 1251.
Diamond, A. & Taylor, C. 1996. Development of an aspect of executive control: Development of the abilities to remember what I said and to “do as I say, not as I do”. Developmental Psychology, 29, 315334.
Flavell, J. H., Flavell, E. R. & Green, F. L. 1983. Development of the Appearance/Reality distinction. Cognitive Psychology, 15, 95120.
Flavell, J. H., Flavell, E. R. & Green, F. L. 1987. Young children's knowledge about apparent/real and pretend/real distinctions. Developmental Psychology, 23, 816822.
Gerstadt, C. L., Hong, Y. J. & Diamond, A. 1994. The relationship between cognition and action: Performance of children 3;12–7 years old on a Stroop-like daynight test. Cognition, 53, 129153.
Gollan, T. H. & Kroll, J. F. 2001. Bilingual lexical access. In Rapp, B. (ed.), The handbook of cognitive neuropsychology: What deficits reveal about the human mind, pp. 321345. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press.
Gollan, T. H. & Silverberg, N. B. 2001. Tip-of-the-tongue states in Hebrew–English bilinguals. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 4, 6383.
Grainger, J. & Beauvillain, C. 1987. Language blocking and lexical access in bilinguals. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 39A, 295319.
Green, D. W. 1998. Mental control of the bilingual lexico-semantic system. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 1, 6781.
Harnishfeger, K. K. & Bjorklund, D. F. 1993. The ontogeny of inhibition mechanisms: A renewed approach to cognitive development. In Pasnak, R. & Howe, M. (eds.), Emerging themes in cognitive development (vol. 1), pp. 2849. New York: Springer Verlag.
Hommel, B. 1994. Spontaneous decay of response-code activation. Psychological Research, 56, 261268.
Kolb, B. & Wishaw, I. Q. 2001. An introduction to brain and behaviour. New York: Worth Publishers.
Kroll, J. F. & Dijkstra, A. (T.) 2002. The bilingual lexicon. In Kaplan, R. (ed.), Handbook of applied linguistics, 301321. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kroll, J. F. & Stewart, E. 1994. Category interference in translation and picture naming: Evidence for asymmetric connections between bilingual memory representations. Journal of Memory and Language, 33, 149174.
La Heij, W. 2005. Selection processes in monolingual and bilingual lexical access. In Kroll, J. F. & de Groot, A. M. B. (eds.), Handbook of bilingualism: Psycholinguistic approaches, pp. 289307. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lu, C.-H. & Proctor, R. W. 1995. The influence of irrelevant location information on performance: A review of the Simon and spatial Stroop effects. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 2, 174207.
Lu, C.-H. & Proctor, R. W. 2001. Influence of irrelevant information on human performance: Effects of S–R association strength and relative timing. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology A: Human Experimental Psychology, 54A, 95136.
Oller, D. K. & Eilers, R. 2002. Language and literacy in bilingual children. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
Ozonoff, S. & Jensen, J. 1999. Specific executive function profiles in three neurodevelopmental disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 29, 171177.
Ozonoff, S., Pennington, B. F. & Rogers, S. J. 1991. Executive function deficits in high-functioning autistic individuals: Relationship to theory of mind. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 32, 1081, 1105.
Pascual-Leone, J. 1969. Water Level Test. York University, Toronto.
Rescorla, L. 1989. The Language Development Survey: A screening tool for delayed language in toddlers. Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, 54, 587599.
Simon, J. R. 1969. Reactions towards the source of stimulation. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 81, 174176.
Simon, J. R. & Craft, J. L. 1970. Effects of an irrelevant auditory stimulus on visual choice reaction time. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 86, 272274.
Tipper, S. P. 1992. Selections for actions: The role of inhibitory mechanisms. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 1, 105112.
Zelazo, P. D., Reznick, J. S. & Pinon, D. E. 1995. Response control and the execution of verbal rules. Developmental Psychology, 31, 508517.
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? *


Altmetric attention score

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