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Effects of both ageing and bilingualism on attention and executive functions

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Poster B33 in Poster Session B, Tuesday, October 24, 3:30 - 5:15 pm CEST, Espace Vieux-Port

Roksana Markiewicz1, Foyzul Rahman1, Eunice Fernandes2, Rupali Limachya1, Allison Wetterlin2, Linda Wheeldon2, Katrien Segaert1; 1University of Birmingham, 2University of Agder

Ageing and bilingualism have been documented to confer a complex picture of positive and adverse effects on cognition (Donnelly et al., 2019; Veríssimo et al., 2022). Here, we focused on attention and executive functions, which are critical processes allowing us to selectively attend to some aspects of information while ignoring others. Moreover, these functions interact with other cognitive domains, such as language. We investigated the combined impact of ageing and bilingualism on attention (alerting and orienting), executive inhibitory control and task related switch costs. We tested young and older mono- and bilinguals (N=40 in each of these four groups) on the Attention Network Task (ANT). We further examined the impact of bilingual individual differences (N=177 bilinguals) using objective measures including language proficiency (L2 vocabulary) and language switching and mixing (L1 and L2 switch/ mixing costs) on the ANT outcomes. Group comparisons revealed that age decreased alerting (p<.001) and increased executive (inhibitory) control performance (p<.001), for mono-and bilinguals alike (interactions: p>.1). For orienting, bilingual young adults performed better than monolingual young adults (p<.06), but, bilingual older adults performed worse than monolingual older adults (p<.02). There were limited effects of individual difference measures. Firstly, L2 proficiency improved orienting performance (p = .04) for young and older bilinguals alike, that is, the better the L2 proficiency, the more efficient use of the spatial cues to guide attention. Secondly, L2 proficiency was also negatively related with the task-related switch cost (p=.03) in the more difficult condition (i.e., L2 proficiency facilitated task-switching behaviour, but only when switching into incongruent trials). Language switching/ mixing performance was not predictive of any cognitive outcomes. Healthy ageing leads to declines as well as improvements in attention and executive functions, but this is network-specific: attention, orienting and executive control should be seen as separate components. We showed adverse effects of ageing on alerting and protective effects of ageing on executive control, which are in line with previous studies (e.g., Verissimo et al., 2020). The impact of bilingualism for attention/executive functions is less clear. However, our study highlights the importance of combining group comparisons with an individual differences approach. Through looking at individual variability within bilinguals and relating it to specific outcomes with the attention and executive function network, we can learn what the characteristics are of those bilinguals who are going to differ from monolinguals the most.

Topic Areas: Multilingualism, Control, Selection, and Executive Processes

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