Cognitive Complexity and Attentional Control in the Bilingual Mind

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Abstract

In the analysis and control framework, Bialystok identifies analysis (representation) and control (selective attention) as components of language processing and has shown that one of these, control, develops earlier in bilingual children than in comparable monolinguals. In the theory of cognitive complexity and control (CCC), Zelazo and Frye argue that preschool children lack the conscious representation and executive functioning needed to solve problems based on conflicting rules. The present study investigates whether the bilingual advantage in control can be found in a nonverbal task, the dimensional change card sort, used by Zelazo and Frye to assess CCC. This problem contains misleading information characteristic of high-control tasks but minimal demands for analysis. Sixty preschool children, half of whom were bilingual, were divided into a group of younger (M = 4,2) and older (M = 5,5) children. All the children were given a test of English proficiency (PPVT-R) and working memory (Visually-Cued Recall Task) to assure comparability of the groups and then administered the dimensional change card sort task and the moving word task. The bilingual children were more advanced than the monolinguals in the solving of experimental problems requiring high levels of control. These results demonstrate the role of attentional control in both these tasks, extends our knowledge about the cognitive development of bilingual children, and provides a means of relating developmental proposals articulated in two different theoretical frameworks, namely, CCC and analysis-control.

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