Cognitive control in Russian-German bilinguals

Julia Festman*, Thomas F. Münte

*Corresponding author for this work
29 Citations (Scopus)


Bilingual speakers are faced with the problem to keep their languages apart, but do so with interindividually varying success. Cognitive control abilities might be an important factor to explain such interindividual differences. Here we compare two late, balanced and highly proficient bilingual groups (mean age 24 years, L1 Russian, L2 German) which were estab-lished according to their language control abilities on a bilingual picture-naming task. One group had difficulties to remain in the instructed target language and switched uninten-tionally to the non-target language ("switchers"), whereas the other group rarely switched unintentionally ("non-switchers"). This group-specific behavior could not be explained by language background, socio-cultural, or demographic variables. Rather, the non-switchers also demonstrated a faster and better performance on four cognitive control tests (Tower of Hanoi, Ruff Figural FluencyTest, Divided Attention, Go/Nogo). Here, we focus on two addi-tional executive function tasks, theWisconsin Card SortingTest (WCST) and the Flanker task requiring conflict monitoring and conflict resolution. Non-switchers outperformed switch-ers with regard to speed and accuracy, and were better at finding and applying the correct rules in the WCST. Similarly, in the Flanker task non-switchers performed faster and better on conflict trials and had a higher correction rate following an error. Event-related poten-tial recordings furthermore revealed a smaller error-related negativity in the non-switchers, taken as evidence for a more efficient self-monitoring system. We conclude that bilin-gual language performance, in particular switching behavior, is related to performance on cognitive control tasks. Better cognitive control, including conflict monitoring, results in decreased unintentional switching.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberArticle 115
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberAPR
Publication statusPublished - 10.10.2012


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