Attention and inhibition in bilingual children: evidence from the dimensional change card sort task


Ellen Bialystok, Department of Psychology, York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, Ontario, M3J 1P3, Canada; e-mail:


In a previous study, a bilingual advantage for preschool children in solving the dimensional change card sort task was attributed to superiority in inhibition of attention (Bialystok, 1999). However, the task includes difficult representational demands to encode and interpret the task stimuli, and bilinguals may also have profited from superior representational abilities. This possibility is examined in three studies. In Study 1, bilinguals outperformed monolinguals on versions of the problem containing moderate representational demands but not on a more demanding condition. Studies 2 and 3 demonstrated that bilingual children were more skilled than monolinguals when the target dimensions were perceptual features of the stimulus and that the two groups were equivalent when the target dimensions were semantic features. The conclusions are that bilinguals have better inhibitory control for ignoring perceptual information than monolinguals do but are not more skilled in representation, confirming the results of the original study. The results also identify the ability to ignore an obsolete display feature as the critical difficulty in solving this task.