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Differences in Language Exposure and its Effects on Memory Flexibility in Monolingual, Bilingual, and Trilingual Infants*


Bilingual advantages in memory flexibility, indexed using a memory generalization task, have been reported (Brito & Barr, 2012; 2014), and the present study examines what factors may influence memory performance. The first experiment examines the role of language similarity; bilingual 18-month-old infants exposed to two similar languages (Spanish–Catalan) or two more different (English–Spanish) languages were tested on a memory generalization task and compared to monolingual 18-month-olds. The second experiment compares performance by trilingual 18-month-olds to monolingual and bilingual infants’ performance from the first experiment. The bilingual advantage in memory flexibility was robust; both bilingual groups outperformed the monolingual groups, with no significant differences between bilingual groups. Interestingly, an advantage was not found for infants exposed to three languages. These findings demonstrate early emerging differences in memory flexibility, and have important implications for our understanding of how early environmental variations shape the trajectory of memory development.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Natalie Brito, Columbia University, 722 West 168th Street, Room 1603, New York, NY 10032
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We are grateful to all the families who participated in this research and to Amanda Grenell, Ana Gutiérrez, Lovika Kalra, Aina Pinyol, and Mireira Martin for their invaluable help in collecting and coding data. This research was funded by the European Research Council under the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013/ERC grant agreement #323961), the Spanish Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (PSI2012-34071), and the ICREA Académia prize for excellence in research funded by the Generalitat de Catalunya to Núria Sebastián-Gallés; the Georgetown University International Collaborative Research Grant to Rachel Barr; and by the Georgetown University Dissertation Travel Grant and American Psychological Foundation Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz fellowship awarded to Natalie Brito.

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