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Poster E2, Saturday, August 18, 3:00 – 4:45 pm, Room 2000AB

The Lifelong Impact of Language Context on the Neural Correlates of Switching

Alexandra Reyes1, Angelique Blackburn1;1Texas A&M International University

Research has shown that bilinguals at times outperform monolinguals on language and non-language switching (e.g., multitasking) tasks, but young adults rarely display this bilingual advantage.  Two potential reasons for the lack of effect are that it may only occur in bilinguals who use their languages in a way that employs switching ability and that a lifetime of managing two languages is necessary to observe behavioral differences.  Previous studies with young adults showed that language habits affect the neural correlates of cognitive control, even in the absence of observable behavioral differences. The purpose of this study is to determine if the neural correlates of language and non-language switching are affected by a lifetime of engaging in specific language switching behaviors. We are comparing bilinguals who have spent the majority of their lives residing in one of three contexts. In the single-language context, bilinguals are thought to use competitive language control to stay in one language for a long period of time.  In contrast, in a dual language context, bilinguals switch languages between conversations throughout the day, which is thought to require reliance on switching mechanisms and a greater degree of competitive control. Finally, in a dense code-switching context, bilinguals switch rapidly within a conversation. This habit is not thought to involve competitive control, but rather, the languages are used cooperatively (Green & Abutalebi, 2013).  To assess whether switching between languages in a competitive manner enhances neural networks involved in switching, event-related potentials (ERPs) are being recorded while highly proficient and balanced Spanish-English bilinguals over the age of 50 perform language and non-language switching tasks. On language switching tasks, participants are cued to switch between naming pictures in Spanish and English.  On the non-language task, they are cued to switch between identifying the magnitude or parity of a number. We are specifically observing the N2 switch effect, a negative voltage deflection related to competitive control needed to inhibit irrelevant information when switching out of an active language or task. Dual-language switchers are expected to show the largest N2 switch effect on both language and non-language tasks, because they have engaged and enhanced competitive control by switching languages between conversations throughout their life.  We expect behavioral differences to coincide with neural effects in the older adults. The bilingual advantage has been attacked because it is not consistently observed, but finding differences based on age and language habits would explain some of the inconsistencies in the literature. Additionally, understanding variables that moderate the bilingual advantage would advance our understanding of cognitive aging.

Topic Area: Control, Selection, and Executive Processes