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Sustained inhibition of the native language in bilingual language production: A virtual reality approach*


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.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: David Peeters, PhD Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics P.O. Box 310 NL-6500 AH Nijmegen The Netherlands
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We would like to thank Jeroen Derks for 3D graphics design, Albert Russel and Reiner Dirksmeyer for technical support, Angelique Tinga for sharing her Fieldtrip expertise, Peter Hagoort for making VR research possible at MPI, and Iring Koch and 2 anonymous reviewers for valuable comments and suggestions.

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