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Early childhood bilingualism leads to advances in executive attention: Dissociating culture and language

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This study investigated whether early especially efficient utilization of executive functioning in young bilinguals would transcend potential cultural benefits. To dissociate potential cultural effects from bilingualism, four-year-old U. S. Korean-English bilingual children were compared to three monolingual groups - English and Korean monolinguals in the U.S.A. and another Korean monolingual group, in Korea. Overall, bilinguals were most accurate and fastest among all groups. The bilingual advantage was stronger than that of culture in the speed of attention processing, inverse processing efficiency independent of possible speed-accuracy trade-offs, and the network of executive control for conflict resolution. A culture advantage favoring Korean monolinguals from Korea was found in accuracy but at the cost of longer response times.
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Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 14 (3), 2011, 412–422 C
Cambridge University Press 2011 doi:10.1017/S1366728910000611
RESEARCH NOTES
Early childhood bilingualism
leads to advances in executive
attention: Dissociating culture
and language
SUJIN YANG
Tyndale University College
HWAJIN YANG
Singapore Management University
BARBARA LUST
Cornell University
(Received: October 27, 2009; final revision received: July 20, 2010; accepted: October 15, 2010; First published online 7 April 2011)
This study investigated whether early especially efficient utilization of executive functioning in young bilinguals would
transcend potential cultural benefits. To dissociate potential cultural effects from bilingualism, four-year-old U.S.
Korean–English bilingual children were compared to three monolingual groups – English and Korean monolinguals in the
U.S.A. and another Korean monolingual group, in Korea. Overall, bilinguals were most accurate and fastest among all
groups. The bilingual advantage was stronger than that of culture in the speed of attention processing, inverse processing
efficiency independent of possible speed-accuracy trade-offs, and the network of executive control for conflict resolution. A
culture advantage favoring Korean monolinguals from Korea was found in accuracy but at the cost of longer response times.
Keywords: bilingual cognitive advantage, culture, executive attention, Attention Network Test
A number of studies have provided evidence that
bilingualism advances executive function in young adults
(Costa, Hernández & Sebatián-Gallés, 2008) and even
may defer negative aging effects in older adults (Bialysotk,
Craik, Klein & Viswanathan, 2004). However, with regard
to potential cognitive benefits of childhood bilingualism
in young children, debate persists today as various factors
such as socio-cultural demographics are often difficult to
dissociate from bilingualism per se. On the one hand,
bilingual preschoolers (age 4–6 years) have displayed
advanced cognitive performance on a variety of behavioral
attention tasks measuring cognitive control (Bialystok,
1999, 2001, 2010; Bialystok & Martin, 2004; Carlson &
Meltzoff, 2008). On the other hand, it has been argued
that this observed bilingual cognitive advantage may
interact with various environmental factors, and even
possibly be explained by them (e.g., socio-economic
status (SES), ethnic and cultural backgrounds) (Carlson
& Choi, 2008; Mezzacappa, 2004; Morton & Harper,
* This work was supported by research grant awards from the College
of Human Ecology and the Mario Einaudi Center for International
Studies at Cornell University. We thank M. Rosario Rueda and Jin Fan
for consultation on the Attention Network Test and to Ellen Bialystok,
Suzanne Flynn, James Gair, and three anonymous reviewers for their
constructive comments on the manuscript. Many thanks also go to
the directors of daycare centers (NEW Christian Academy in New
Jersey, Cornell University Early Childhood Center under the direction
of Elizabeth Stilwell in New York, and Good Morning daycare in
Korea) for their support, as well as parents and children who willingly
participated in the study.
Address for correspondence:
Barbara Lust, Department of Human Development, Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, USA
BCL4@cornell.edu
2007; see Bialystok, 2009, in response to Morton &
Harper). Certain cultural contexts, such as what has
been termed a “Confucius East Asian milieu” have been
associated with advancement in children’s development of
regulatory control behavior independently of bilingualism
in Korean and Chinese preschoolers (Carlson, 2009;
Lewis, Koyasu, Oh, Ogawa, Short & Huang, 2009; Oh
& Lewis, 2008; Sabbagh, Xu, Carlson, Moses & Lee,
2006). If culture modulates the development of executive
control, it potentially confounds prior developmental
findings with children recruited from East Asian families
in bilingualism studies (see for example, Bialystok, 1999;
Yang & Lust, 2005).
The concept of culture is necessarily broad and
complex, e.g., the classic Tylor (1871, p. 1)) definition of
culture as a “complex whole” consisting of “Knowledge,
belief, art, morals, and all those capabilities and habits
that man acquires as member of society”. Culture is
thus necessarily an elusive concept reflected in multiple
dimensions of life, thoughts, beliefs, behaviors and even
in the geographical environment in which we operate.
For example, a more supervisory and interdependent
native culture (i.e., broadly promoted Eastern cultural
values) has been contrasted with a more individualistic
and autonomous host culture (i.e., broadly promoted
Western cultural values) (e.g., Vinden, 2001); cultural
differences between East and West have been discerned in
many aspects such as parenting attitudes (Ahadi, Rothbart
& Ye, 1993; Chao & Tseng, 2002; Chen, Hastings,
Rubin, Chen, Cen & Stewart, 1998; Vinden, 2001),
Dissociating culture and language 413
parent–child narratives and autobiographical memories
(Wang, 2006), children’s social and play behavior (Chen
et al., 1998; Farver & Lee-Shin, 2000), and teachers’
evaluations (Farver & Lee-Shin, 2000). At the same
time, such cultural differences may in fact interact with
geographical location. For example, Farver and Lee-Shin
(2000) provide evidence that Korean American parents
assimilating to American culture in the U.S. attenuate the
Confucius East Asian milieu. With all these features and
values binding together in a variety of ways, the definition
and measurement of culture becomes more and more
complex and intricate. In the present study, we defined
culture effects to be reflected largely on two dimensions –
(i) geography (i.e., the Republic of Korea – East vs. the
U.S. – West) and (ii) acculturation (i.e., Korean immigrant
families vs. American families in the U.S.).
In this study we initiated investigation of the
potential cognitive effects of bilingualism on cognitive
development by beginning to dissociate bilingualism
effects from other possible socio-cultural effects related
to geography and general SES. To do this, we recruited
four-year-old Korean–English (KE) developing bilinguals
in the U.S. and three monolingual control groups –
English (E) and Korean (K) monolinguals in the U.S.
and Korean monolinguals (ROK) in the Republic of
Korea, while attempting to maintain general SES across
these. Our selection of Korea and U.S. was determined
following the established cultural dichotomy of East
and West and choosing a representative country for
each as referenced in the literature. Korea is frequently
characterized as endorsing Eastern values such as
interpersonal harmony, hierarchical relationships, filial
piety, and inhibited behavior and the U.S. as valuing self-
expressions, independence, individualism, and personal
efficacy (Farver & Lee-Shin, 2000; Vinden, 2001).
To further focus our investigation of the hypothesized
advantage of bilingualism on cognitive development, we
evaluate executive attention, a cognitive area which is now
well studied, and one where advanced measurement tech-
niques have now been developed, including those which
allow correlations with brain mechanisms and genotyping
assessments (Posner & Fan, 2008; Posner, Rothbart &
Rueda, 2008). To evaluate executive attention, we adopted
a child version of an Attention Network Test (ANT;
Rueda, Fan, McCandliss, Halparin, Gruber, Lercari &
Posner, 2004), which enables us to specify global attention
performance in terms of accuracy and reaction time and
to assess efficiency levels of three attention networks –
ALERTING,ORIENTING, and EXECUTIVE CONTROL of con-
flict resolution as they operate through distinct anatomical
brain regions (Fan, McCandliss, Sommer, Raz & Posner,
2002). The ANT task, which was constructed in an
integrated ‘cue by flanker’ paradigm for testing of adults
(Fan et al., 2002), was first adapted for use with young
children by replacing an array of arrow stimuli (←←→
←←) with more child-friendly fish stimuli (see Figure 1
below), and sound and animation feedback features were
also augmented in accord with children’s responses. Using
this version, Rueda et al. (2004) tested monolingual
children from 6 through 10 years of age, addressing
a critical range in life-span development of attention
networks. In general, a steady but significant increase of
overall attention performance in terms of accuracy and re-
action time was observed in developing children whereas
executive network efficiency was stable across the four
age groups (6–10). Mezzacappa (2004) also employed the
child version of ANT task and found correlations between
the development of executive attention in 4–7-year-olds
and various ethnic and socio-economic factors.
In the present study, we adopted the Child ANT,
previously used to measure executive attention in
monolingual children (Mezzacappa, 2004; Rueda et al.,
2004), to begin to study development of executive
attention in a bilingual population and comparable
monolingual populations from different culture groups.
We hypothesize that:
1. BILINGUALISM EFFECT (BILINGUALISM). If
beneficial effects of childhood bilingualism emerge
by age four, even while bilingualism is developing
in the child, then significant advances on the Child
ANT would characterize our bilingual population
compared to the monolinguals, potentially on both
overall accuracy and reaction time (RT), as well as
in the EXECUTIVE CONTROL network that is primarily
responsible for conflict resolution. This result would
converge with previous research findings with adult
bilinguals on the Adult ANT (Costa et al., 2008).
It will also converge with recent results suggesting
bilingual cognitive control benefits in infants as young
as seven months (Kovács & Mehler, 2009).
2. CULTURE EFFECT (CULTURE). If certain Asian
socio-cultural environments (e.g., Korea, where there
is increased cultural emphasis on behavioral control
and inhibition in early childhood (Ahadi et al., 1993;
Chao & Tseng, 2002; Chen et al., 1998)) are linked
to significant cognitive benefits in executive attention
(Carlson & Choi, 2008; Lewis et al., 2009; Oh &
Lewis, 2008; Sabbagh et al., 2006), then recruited
Korean monolinguals in the Republic of Korea
may surpass the English monolinguals who receive
different cultural nurturing and child rearing practices
such as independence, individual orientation and self-
expression (Ahadi et al., 1993; Chao & Tseng, 2002;).
We also hypothesized that the Korean monolinguals
from the Republic of Korea may outperform the
Korean immigrant children in the U.S. Although
U.S. Koreans share cultural heritage with the native
Koreans in the homeland (the Republic of Korea)
in ancestral origin, language, the Korean immigrant
414 Sujin Yang, Hwajin Yang and Barbara Lust
Figure 1. Schematic representation of the Attention Network Test (ANT).
group would have been to some degree assimilated to
the American families in the U.S. in various cultural
factors while living under the same North American
cultural dynamics.
3. ACCULTURATION EFFECT (ACCULTURATION).
Through substantial exposure and alternation to
the host culture of a second language, the Korean
monolingual children who continuously are in contact
with North American culture, e.g., living in the U.S.,
would begin to integrate the cognitive styles and
behaviors that would be reflective of mainstream
culture (e.g., Farver & Lee-Shin, 2000). As far as
we know, the impact of acculturation on executive
attention has not been studied yet. We take an
exploratory approach to this research question by
comparing performance between the U.S. Korean and
the English monolinguals.
4. DISSOCIATING BILINGUALISM AND CULTURE
EFFECTS (DISSOCIATION). Critically, if bilingua-
lism per se stimulates cognitive advancement over
and above any advancement due to culture, then the
U.S. Korean–English bilinguals should outperform
not only the English monolinguals, but also the
Korean monolingual counterparts in the Republic of
Korea. Depending on the effects of acculturation, the
bilinguals may also outperform monolingual Korean
children in the U.S., whom we assume to reflect
critical aspects of Korean culture.
In order to examine the effects of BILINGUALISM,
CULTURE, and ACCULTURATION on executive
attention measured by the ANT task, we designed a set
of three planned contrasts in Analysis of Covariance
(ANCOVA) models with Age as the covariate; (i) to
investigate the BILINGUALISM effect, the KE and
the three monolingual groups – K, E, and ROK –
were contrasted; (ii) to investigate the CULTURE
effect, which was largely defined by the dichotomy
of East vs. West, the ROK and the K (U.S.) and
E (U.S.) were compared; and (iii) to examine the
ACCULTURATION effect, the E and K in the U.S.
were contrasted along with a separate analysis comparing
the K and ROK. Critically, to dissociate bilingualism
and culture (i.e., DISSOCIATION) and to test whether
bilingual experience overrules a potential culture effect,
we employed a set of separate ANOVAs to directly
compare the KE bilingual and ROK monolingual
groups in comparison to the KE bilinguals vs. English
monolinguals.
Dissociating culture and language 415
Tabl e 1 . Participants’ descriptions.
Background profiles
Gender PPVT
Mean age Age range ratio Language PPVT standard Age
Groups (SD) (months) (M:F) use (SD)raw(SD) range equivalents
English monolinguals (E; N=15) 56 (3.2) 49–60 8:7 English 79 (19.8) 42–116 72
U.S. Korean monolinguals (K; N=13) 53 (1.8) 51–56 12:1 Korean 40 (13.6) . 38
ROK Korean monolinguals (ROK; N=13) 52 (3.6) 49–60 8:5 Korean 55 (16.9) . 52
Korean–English bilinguals (KE; N=15) 57 (2.4) 51–60 8:7 K:E 45:55 47 (16.6) 25–84 44
Notes:M = Male; F = Female. Age equivalents were computed on the basis of raw scores as indicated in the PPVT norms book (Dunn & Dunn,
1997). Language use was based on the parents’ reports on the percentile-based frequency.
Method
Participants
Fifty-six children aged four years (M=54.6 in months,
SD =3.5) were tested; 15 Korean–English developing
bilinguals (KE) (M=57, SD =2.4), 15 English
monolinguals (E) (M=56, SD =3.2), 13 Korean
monolinguals (K) (M=53, SD =1.8) from the U.S.
and 13 Korean monolinguals from the Republic of Korea
(ROK) (M=52, SD =3.6), (AGE: p<.05) (see Table 1
for participant descriptions).
Socio-economic status was controlled by proxy
measures such as middle-class neighborhoods and
parental education level. The three groups of children (KE,
E, and K) were born in the U.S. and recruited from nursery
schools in middle-class urban areas in New York and New
Jersey. The ROK group was recruited from a middle-class
urban neighborhood in Chonju, Korea. All parents, both
in the U.S. and Korea, were college-educated at least.
The Virtual Linguistics Lab (VLL) Child Multilingualism
Questionnaire (Yang, Blumé & Lust, 2007) was used to
evaluate the KE group’s language backgrounds on the
basis of caretaker report. A vocabulary test (either English
or Korean), the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test–III
(PPVT) or a Korean adaptation of this (see the “Materials
and procedure” section below) was also administered to
assess each child’s language abilities through vocabulary
assessment.
The U.S.-based Korean monolingual (K) and bilingual
(KE) children were from the homes of first-generation
native Korean parents and were attending either a Korean
monolingual or a Korean–English bilingual program in
the same preschool in New Jersey. These K and KE
groups are similar in many respects (e.g., living in the
same neighbourhood (Palisades Park, New Jersey) and
attending the same daycare); however, unlike the Korean
monolingual group,the KE bilingual group was enrolled
in the Korean–English bilingual program for one school
year. The Korean and Korean–English bilingual programs
in this daycare center differed only in the language of
instruction. Parents had chosen the Korean monolingual
nursery school experience for their children mainly in
order to maintain Korean ethnic identity and to attenuate
possible language attrition.The parents of the U.S. Korean
monolingual children indicated close cultural affinity to
their native Korean and naturalized American cultures
alike.
The KE bilingual children had approximately
11 months of formal exposure to English through the
bilingual daycare program at the point of testing and
thus were acquiring English sequentially after their first
language. Their parents reported that they had not found
any problems or delays in their children’s Korean-L1
abilities. Additionally teachers were asked to eliminate
from our sample any children with known linguistic or
cognitive disabilities. All the children in the experiment
were normally developing and from a family where both
parents are Korean native speakers and first-generation
immigrants. We assume that by the age of four, children
normally have become proficient in their first language
and essential first language acquisition is accomplished
although some aspects of language continue to develop
beyond this time (Lust, 2006). Reportedly, the KE group
spoke Korean at home and in the Korean community
whereas English was the language of communication at
school. In answer to a question as to how much time the
child spent using each language, we found 45% Korean
as opposed to 55% of English on average, which largely
corresponds to the child’s awake time spent at home vs. at
school.
Although the Korean monolingual group in the U.S.
had English exposure through the media or by contacting
English speakers, none of them had received any formal
education in English at the time of testing. Nonetheless,
the K group was screened using the set 1 of the PPVT
416 Sujin Yang, Hwajin Yang and Barbara Lust
appropriate for English age 2.5 years and all participating
children made substantial errors preventing them from
passing the first set. The Korean monolingual children
may have the ability to identify a few English words
but they were unable to comprehend instructions in
English. In the community of Palisades Park, New Jersey,
children can grow up as Korean monolinguals for the
first few years before English schooling begins. This is
mainly enabled by the large Korean ethnic composition of
the community and the availability of Korean amenities
(e.g., schools, shops, and restaurants) and private/public
services (e.g., banks, post office, and government
offices).
The ROK monolingual children attended a daycare
center in Korea which offered a weekly 15-minute-long
sing-along time in English. In this short weekly session,
children are shown educational DVDs, and a Korean
teacher of English leads the session in Korean. Although
this may constitute formal English exposure, none of the
ROK children obtained good enough proficiency either to
pass the first set in the English PPVT or to understand
English instructions.
Although systematic comparisons of daycare programs
between the participating preschools in the U.S. and
Korea were not conducted, Korean preschools’ curriculum
for three-to-five years of age is guided by the National
Kindergarten Curriculum (NKC), which was formulated
under a strong Western influence such as American
Developmentally Appropriate Practices (Ministry of
Education, 2001). The emphasis of the NKC is mostly
given on child-centered and play-centered activities with
an integrated teaching model for children’s holistic
development. We noticed that the Korean daycare center
in Korea provided a program quite similar to that of the
New York and New Jersey daycare centers, which mostly
consisted of a circle time, free play among peers, arts and
crafts, singing, story, and playground times. According
to our observation, neither of the daycare programs was
more enriching than any other in their regular educational
programs.
The English monolingual children had no prior
formal exposure to languages other than English beyond
incidental exposure to foreign languages in various forms
such as the media.
Materials and procedure
Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test–III (PPVT)
The PPVT (Dunn & Dunn, 1997) has been generally
used to measure receptive vocabulary in a wide range of
ages, from 2.5 years to 90 years, and was administered
in two languages – English for English monolinguals
and Korean–English bilinguals, and Korean for Korean
monolinguals in the U.S. and Korea.1When a word
was given by an experimenter, children were instructed
to either point to one of the four drawings or respond
by saying the number of the picture of their choice
which depicted the word prompt. The number of correct
responses for each child between the basal set of zero
error and ceiling set of more than eight errors were
then computed to output raw scores. The scores of
the English PPVT were then converted to standardized
scores corrected for age and percentile ranks. The
reported population mean is 100 with a standard deviation
of 15.
The PPVT primarily functioned to measure vocabulary
size. However, in monolinguals the PPVT performance
and other non-verbal cognitive abilities such as the
Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test (KBIT) (Kaufman
& Kaufman, 2004), have widely demonstrated high
correlations, r=.62–.82 (Fantuzzo, McWayne, Perry &
Childs, 2004) and the subtest of matrices of the KBIT was
also found to significantly correlate with the PPVT, r=
.71 (Levy, Smith & Tager-Flusberg, 2003).
Attention Network Test (ANT)
Children were visually presented with the child version
of the ANT from a distance of approximately 56 cm on
a 14.1-inch personal Compaq notebook computer with a
Windows 2000 operating system. They were instructed to
respond to the two input (right and left) keys on a keyboard
in the way that would match the direction of swimming
hungry fish as accurately and quickly as they could.
The Child ANT is adapted from the Adult ANT (Fan
et al., 2002), which was constructed on the basis of an
integrated ‘cue by flanker’ paradigm (Eriksen & Eriksen,
1974). To make the version more child-friendly, new
features (sound and animation feedback) were added and
the stimuli were replaced (see Rueda et al., 2004, for
review). The Child ANT, a game-like non-verbal task,
was set in blue background to simulate ocean water,
with bright yellow fish swimming leftward or rightward.
Children heard ‘woohoo’ for correct responses and ‘huh’
for incorrect responses.
The ANT was composed of four cue (NO CUE,
DOUBLE CUE, CENTRAL CUE, and SPATIAL CUE)
and three flanker (NEUTRAL, CONGRUENT, and
INCONGRUENT) types. The variation of cue and flanker
conditions allowed assessment of various components –
1For our research purposes, two Korean–English bilingual students
from doctoral programs at Cornell University and two Korean
American students from the Cornell Language Acquisition
Laboratory prepared a Korean translation of the English PPVT–III
(Pearson Publishers) through multiple back-and-forth translations.
The final Korean version was checked by two Korean native speakers
for cultural and linguistic adaptation. The Korean version was created
only for the comparison of raw scores between the groups of children
who speak different languages.
Dissociating culture and language 417
ALERTING,ORIENTING, and EXECUTIVE CONTROL –inthe
executive attention system (Fan et al., 2002; Rueda et al.,
2004). Efficiency in cue and flanker processing is subject
to individual differences as the range of executive skills
assessed by the ANT is primarily altered by experience
and genes (Posner & Rachle, 1994) (e.g., attentive
vigilance for stimuli changes, switching of attention to
the location of cues, monitoring for conflict resolution,
and inhibition of distraction for correct target detection).
Overall ANT performance obtained on the basis of
integrative cue and flanker conditions was represented
in terms of accuracy in percent and reaction times (RT)
in milliseconds on correct trials across the whole task.
The RT-based attention network efficiency was computed
on the basis of subtraction formulas between three sets
of paired conditions: NO CUE and DOUBLE CUE
conditions for ALERTING; CENTRAL CUE and SPATIAL
CUE conditions for ORIENTING; CONGRUENT and
INCONGRUENT conditions for EXECUTIVE CONTROL
(see Figure 1).
The task consists of a total of 168 trials over
one training block of 24 trials and three experimental
blocks of 48 trials each. The three experimental blocks
are composed of 12 conditions (4 cues ×3 flankers).
Performance feedback in both sound and animation was
given on each trial. Children took between 25 and
30 minutes to complete the task.
All groups were tested on the tasks by Korean–
English bilingual experimenters in a quiet room. English
monolinguals and KE bilinguals were tested in English,
and Korean monolinguals (K & ROK) in Korean.2The
order of the two tasks – the PPVT and ANT was
counterbalanced.
Results
The four groups differed in age (p<.05). The partial
correlations between Age and all dependant variables –
PPVT raw scores and ANT accuracy, RT, and three
network scores, controlling for bilingual experience –
showed no significant effects. However, Age was covaried
for all analyses using Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA)
except for the English PPVT comparison between the E
and KE groups, whose age did not differ.
A one-way ANOVA displayed a significant advantage
for English monolinguals on the standardized English
PPVT scores when comparing the E and KE groups (Age:
ns;KE:M=87, SD =13.5; E: M=114, SD =14.7),
F(1,27) =31.907, p<.0001, partial η2=.542. The
English monolinguals were placed at 82nd percentile and
2As suggested in a study of autobiographical memory with bilingual
adults (Marian & Kaushanskaya, 2004), it is of future interest to test
the relationship between instruction language and its priming effect
on executive functioning.
the bilingual group at 19th percentile. Given the relatively
short duration of English exposure for the KE group and
recent research that has shown a monolingual–bilingual
difference in receptive vocabulary (Bialystok, Luk, Peets
& Yang, 2010), this result was expected.
When comparing the PPVT raw scores from the four
groups to get a general index of absolute vocabulary
knowledge, the English monolingual group (M=79)
ranked highest, followed by the ROK (M=55), KE (M=
47), and the K groups (M=40).3A one-way Analysis of
Covariance (ANCOVA) with age as the covariate produced
a significant difference in the PPVT raw scores, F(3,51) =
13.656, p<.0001, partial η2=.445. Post-hoc tests
with Bonferroni adjusted p-levels showed that the English
monolinguals performed significantly better than the KE
(English PPVT) and K groups (Korean PPVT), ps<
.0001, whose performance did not differ from each other,
ps=ns. The ROK group performed as well on Korean
vocabulary as the E group did on English vocabulary,
p=ns, and the Korean-speaking groups of K, and ROK
did not significantly differ from one another in Korean
vocabulary knowledge. These findings suggest that the
two monolingual groups (E in the U.S. and ROK in Korea)
who live in a country of their L1 possess comparable skills
as opposed to the K and KE whose Korean-L1 is a minority
language of the host country (U.S.).
Table 2 summarizes ANT accuracy and RT by
groups. A one-way ANCOVA on ANT accuracy and
RTs, respectively, controlling for the influence of AGE
allowed three comparisons to test the effects of contrast
1 – BILINGUALISM, contrast 2 – CULTURE, and
contrast 3 – ACCULTURATION. These were conducted
by orthogonal Helmert contrasts in the ANCOVA model.
The overall attention measure of accuracy on the Child
ANT revealed a significant GROUP difference, F(3,51) =
4.913, p<.004, partial η2=.224. Planned contrasts
revealed that BILINGUALISM significantly increased
accuracy performance for the KE group compared to
the three monolingual groups taken as a whole, t(51) =
–3.492, p(one-tailed) <.0001, partial η2=.193. To
better pinpoint the BILINGUALISM effect, a follow-
up test was run with focus on the comparison between
the KE bilingual and K monolingual groups recruited in
the U.S. This was done because these two groups had
both been exposed to two (Korean and U.S.) cultures and
differed only in bilingual status, thereby rendering the
BILINGUALISM effect more direct and decisive while
controlling for a bicultural influence. Consistent with our
hypothesis, the follow-up test also showed that the KE
bilingual group (M=88%) outperformed the K (M=
74%) monolingual group (t(26) =–3.51, p=.002) on
accuracy and outperformed the E (M=72%) monolingual
3Since the Korean PPVT was not standardized, comparisons across the
four groups can only be approximate.
418 Sujin Yang, Hwajin Yang and Barbara Lust
Tabl e 2 . Overall ANT performance and RT-based network efficiency (SDs).
Inverse Executive
Group Accuracy RT (ms) efficiency Alert Orient control
English monolinguals (E) 72 (14) 1399 (281) 20 (5.4) 59 (34) 84 (73) 111 (57)
U.S. Korean monolinguals (K) 74 (12) 1268 (177) 18 (4.3) 136 (104) 73 (86) 116 (63)
ROK Korean monolinguals (ROK) 81 (14) 1325 (203) 17 (4.4) 87 (75) 110 (87) 146 (81)
Korean–English bilinguals (KE) 88 (8) 1160 (181) 13 (2.7) 92 (61) 63 (87) 86 (49)
Notes:Inverse efficiency was obtained by dividing the correct response times by accuracy and provides a basis for processing efficiency independent
of possible speed-accuracy trade-offs (Townsend & Ashby, 1978). A higher inverse efficiency score indicates poorer performance. A smaller network
value indicates more efficient performance in the given network.
group, p<.05. At the same time, it did not differ from the
ROK group (M=81%), suggesting that cultural influence
may also be beneficial to accuracy.
A significant CULTURE effect from contrast 2
was displayed, t(51) =–2.134, p(one-tailed) <.02,
partial η2=.082, which indicates that the ROK group
was significantly more accurate than the two other
monolingual groups (K and E) in the U.S. The last contrast
for ACCULTURATION effect was not significant, t(51) =
–.698, p>.05, which suggests that when children acquire
only one language, and when acculturation has begun to
take place from the native to the host culture, significant
culture effects may be attenuated.
To dissociate BILINGUALISM and CULTURE we
initially examined the effect of the covariate (Age) in
relation to accuracy in the KE and ROK groups by
ANCOVA. The result showed that accuracy did not vary
systematically with Age, F(1,25) =1.789, ns. Thus, we
conducted a one-way ANOVA comparing the KE and
ROK groups. The result failed to show any significant
DISSOCIATION effect on accuracy.
The same analysis models were conducted on the over-
all attention measure of RT of correct trials on the ANT.
A significant GROUP difference was found, F(3,51) =
4.122, p<.02, partial η2=.195. The same set of
three planned contrasts used previously yielded only a
BILINGUALISM (KE-bilinguals vs. K, E, and ROK-
monolinguals) effect, F(3,51) =2.939, p(one-tailed) <
.0001, partial η2=.145. Further analyses revealed that
the largest RT difference was the comparison between the
KE (M=1160 ms) and E (M=1399 ms) groups, p<
.03. Next, we directly compared the KE and ROK using
a one-way ANOVA. The result produced a significant
DISSOCIATION effect, F(1,26) =5.157, p<.04, partial
η2=.166. This indicates that the KE bilinguals were
significantly faster at speed of processing than were the
ROK monolingual counterparts (M=1325 ms).
Finally, we computed inverse efficiency scores by
dividing the mean RTs of the correct trials by the
proportion of accurate responses (see Table 2). Inverse
efficiency is a standard way to merge RT and accuracy
into a single measure to provide a basis for processing
efficiency independent of possible speed-accuracy trade-
offs (Townsend & Ashby, 1978).4A higher inverse
efficiency score signifies poorer performance. A one-way
ANCOVA with Age as a covariate yielded a significant
GROUP effect, F(3,51) =6.647, p<.001, partial
η2=.281. Planned contrasts displayed a significant
effect of BILINGUALISM, t(51) =4.2, p(one-tailed) <
.0001, partial η2=.257, but no other contrasts were
significant. The ANCOVA produced a significant effect
of DISSOCATION, F(1,26) =6.457, p<.02, partial
η2=.199. That is, the U.S. Korean–English bilinguals
outperformed the Korean monolingual counterparts from
the Republic of Korea.
Figure 2 depicts children’s accuracy and RT on the
ANT as a function of flanker and cue conditions. A 3
(FLANKER conditions: NEUTRAL, CONGRUENT, and
INCONGRUENT) ×4 (CUE conditions: NO, DOUBLE,
CENTRAL, and SPATIAL) mixed ANCOVA model was
conducted with cues and flankers as within-subject factors
and GROUP as a between-subject factor. On the measures
of both accuracy and RT, no effects were significant
except a FLANKER ×GROUP interaction on the RT
data, F(6,306) =2.588, p<.03, partial η2=.132. To
further examine bilinguals’ superiority to monolinguals
in suppressing flanker distraction in the congruent and
incongruent conditions as measured by both accuracy and
RT, we modeled a 2 (FLANKER: CONGRUENT and
INCONGRUENT conditions) ×4 (GROUP: E, K, ROK,
and KE) mixed ANCOVA with FLANKER as a within-
subject factor and GROUP as a between-subject factor,
with Age as a covariate. No main or interaction effects
were found but a planned contrast (BILINGUALISM)
on accuracy scores revealed that bilinguals excelled in
inhibiting distracting incongruent conditions, t(51) =
1.893, p(one-tailed) <.04, partial η2=.066 (see Figure 2,
quadrant A).
In three attention network efficiency scores, the same
one-way ANCOVA model was applied to the analysis
4We thank an anonymous reviewer for suggesting this measure.
Dissociating culture and language 419
Figure 2. Flanker and cue effects on accuracy and Reaction Time (RT).
of each network – alerting, orienting, and executive
control (see Table 2). No significant GROUP effects
emerged on any of the network of executive control.
However, a priori contrasts revealed a significant effect of
ACCULTURATION, t(40) =–2.258, p<.03 on alerting
in favor of the E group relative to the K group in the U.S.
The DISSOCIATION effect on executive control was
further assessed by a follow-up ANOVA by directly
comparing the KE group to the ROK group.5The result
produced a significant difference in DISSOCATION,
F(1,26) =5.157, p<.04, partial η2=.166, suggesting
that the bilingual advantage is distinct from the culture
advantage.
Discussion
Despite the fact that our Korean–English bilinguals were
still developing balanced bilingualism and English was
their weaker language as shown on the standard PPVT
scores, the U.S. KE bilingual group was the most accurate
and fastest compared to all three monolingual peer groups
(K, E, ROK) in overall executive attention accuracy
and RT as measured by the ANT. A sizable culture
effect arose in overall accuracy to the advantage of ROK
5When the covariate of age was not systematically related to the
Dependent Variables, we ran a separate ANOVA as suggested by
Miller and Chapman (2001).
monolinguals; Korean monolinguals in the U.S. behaved
similarly to English counterpart monolingual.
These results not only converge with previous research
(e.g., Bialystok, 1999) documenting that bilingualism
is advantageous to executive attention development, but
they do so through a powerful focused measurement, the
Attention Network Test. These results also suggest that a
positive bilingualism effect on executive attention may
appear quite early in cognitive development and quite
early in the process of bilingualism development, even
starting only after one-to-two years of second language
exposure. Combining these results with recent study of
adult bilingualism (Costa et al., 2008) on the ANT, we
can conclude that advantageous effects of bilingualism
in executive attention may persist over development from
early periods of bilingualism to the young adult period in
a continuous manner.
Although it is not possible to totally dissociate culture
and bilingualism, our design allowed us to begin to
dissociate geography (U.S. and Korea) and SES in general
(controlled across all groups) as potential cultural factors
from bilingualism. It also allowed us to begin to evaluate
effects of acculturation with change of geographical
location. This design allowed us to discover that the
bilingual advantage that is associated with dual language
control superseded potential culture benefits that may be
built upon the East Asian values of disciplined behavior
and behavioral regulation (Chao & Tseng, 2002; Chen
420 Sujin Yang, Hwajin Yang and Barbara Lust
et al., 1998) at the same time that our results replicated
these cultural benefits on development of executive
attention. The positive culture effect in accuracy was
largely distinguished from the bilingualism effect as each
relates differently to RT. The ROK monolingual children’s
high accuracy (81%) was obtained at the cost of longer RT
(M=1325 ms), whereas the bilingual group was highly
accurate (88%) as well as highly efficient in RT (M=
1160 ms) (see Table 2). The significant difference in
inverse efficiency between the KE and ROK groups
suggests that BILINGUALISM is more conducive to
inverse efficiency than CULTURE, and the impact of
BILINGUALISM is deeper and more powerful at a
cognitive level than that of CULTURE, suggesting
the possibility of different mechanisms at work for
BILINGUALISM independent of CULTURE. More
importantly, the executive control network for conflict
resolution between congruent and incongruent flanker
conditions clearly set apart the KE bilingual and ROK
monolingual groups with a strong implication that
a bilingual advantage overrides a potential cultural
advantage in the efficiency of conflict processing
(Table 2).
The two Korean ethnic groups (native Korean
children – ROK vs. U.S. Korean children –K) showed
an interesting divergence in executive functioning as
represented by the ANT accuracy data (ROK: 81%
vs. K: 72% vs. E: 74%), in which the U.S. pair
(U.S. Korean children – K vs. U.S. children – E)
displayed a substantial similarity. Cross-cultural studies
have provided evidence that parents’ cultural affiliation
and the extent that they uphold culture-appropriate
principles for child rearing change when they immigrate
into a new country (e.g., Wang, 2006). Immigrant families
actively adopt new cultural values of the host country as
well as remaining more loyal to the traditional culture of
their native country. Although our study did not attempt
to answer how the cultural assimilation process and
biculturalism (LaFramboise, Coleman & Gerton, 1993)
impact the development of executive functioning during
early childhood, its results warrant future investigation.
These results raise several questions for future
research. In our study, in contrast to overall analyses
of accuracy and RT, individual analyses of the three
networks on the ANT did not display clear individual
distinctions on the basis of bilingual experience. This
may be because the executive attention networks remain
stable in development from early-to-middle childhood
(for further discussion on this issue, see Yang, Yang &
Lust, 2011). Previous developmental findings by Rueda
et al. (2004; ages between 6 and 10) and Mezzacappa
(2004; ages between 4 and 7) and our own developmental
studies (Yang, et al., 2011; ages between 4 and 6) of both
monolingual and bilingual children also failed to find any
significant age effect in the three networks although an
adult study has shown significant bilingual advantages in
alerting or executive control networks (Costa, et al., 2008).
Our current findings also provoke the question of
what comprises East Asia’s cultural constructs that
scaffold the development of regulatory behavior (e.g.,
parenting practices on the basis of Confucian values)
and how these may relate to bilingualism. The related,
yet distinct, contributions of socio-cultural, cognitive-
linguistic experiences to potential benefits in executive
attention should be further examined to explore individual
differences in executive attention from various –
demographic, cognitive, temperamental, and biological –
perspectives as they integrate with bilingualism (Posner
& Rothbart, 2007; Rueda, Posner & Rothbart, 2005).
Given the significance of our effects on relatively small
samples, future research should extend our populations
controlling for numerous factors. Further intellectual
measures can be administered to distinguish the bilingual
cognitive advantage from various characteristics of
intelligence. The child’s bilingualism needs to be more
fully and systematically assessed in both languages as
it may or may not involve first language attrition at the
cost of second language addition; and further studies must
attempt to replicate our results with varying first languages
(Flynn, 1989; Yang & Lust, 2007). Furthermore, the
enhanced executive attention which we have found to be
related to childhood bilingualism invites future studies to
investigate whether other forms of enrichment such as
music or art training (e.g., see Bialystok & DePape, 2009)
can exert the same effect as bilingualism in advancing an
early development of executive capacities.
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Preprint
There are multivariate influences on the development of children’s executive function throughout the lifespan and substantial individual differences can be seen as early as when children are one and two years of age. These individual differences are moderately stable throughout early childhood, but more research is needed to better understand their origins. To some degree, individual differences in executive function are correlated between mother and child, but no research to date has examined these associations prior to when children are preschool age, nor have any studies considered the role of fathers’ and mothers’ executive function in tandem. Here, we use a sample of 484 families (Mothers 89.2% white; Fathers 92.5% white) in three countries (UK, USA, Netherlands) to investigate the role of each parents’ executive function on the development of children’s (49.7% female) executive function from 14 (M=14.42, SD=.57) to 24 (M=24.47, SD=.78) months, as well as parenting practices that underlie these associations. Results of structural equation models suggest stability in some—but not all—components of executive function and growing unity between components as children age. We replicate extant findings such that mothers’ executive function predicts children’s executive function over and above stability and extend these findings to include associations between father and child skills. We find an additive role of fathers’ EF, similar in magnitude to the role of mothers’ EF. Finally, for both mothers and fathers we find that sensitivity and autonomy supportive practices mediate the relations between parents’ and children’s executive function.
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... Preparing teachers for Bilingual Education (BE) is surrounded by complexities and contradictions based on the knowledge and ideologies of linguistic development. Simultaneous bilingualism at an early age is recognized as advantageous, leading to divergent thinking and enhanced cognitive processing (Yang et al., 2011). For EBs, development of the majority language while continuing the development of the native language sustains their identity and culture, while promoting academic development. ...
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... A study by Yang, Yang, and Lust (2011) on early childhood bilingualism leads to advances in executive attention: dissociating culture and language in China was significant to this study. The study showed that bilingual children`s advantage was in their ability to function using other languages while responding using one language. ...
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