Bilinguals often switch languages as a function of the language background of their addressee. The control mechanisms supporting bilinguals' ability to select the contextually appropriate language are heavily debated. Here we present four experiments in which unbalanced bilinguals named pictures in their first language Dutch and their second language English in mixed and blocked contexts. Immersive virtual reality technology was used to increase the ecological validity of the cued language-switching paradigm. Behaviorally, we consistently observed symmetrical switch costs, reversed language dominance, and asymmetrical mixing costs. These findings indicate that unbalanced bilinguals apply sustained inhibition to their dominant L1 in mixed language settings. Consequent enhanced processing costs for the L1 in a mixed versus a blocked context were reflected by a sustained positive component in event-related potentials. Methodologically, the use of virtual reality opens up a wide range of possibilities to study language and communication in bilingual and other communicative settings.
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