Cognitive control and word recognition speed influence the Stroop effect in bilinguals

Ruiming Wang, Xiaoyue Fan, Cong Liu, Zhenguang G. Cai
Published Online:
22 Nov 2014
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 51 Issue 2

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Bilinguals have been shown to be less susceptible to Stroop interference in their first language than monolinguals, though the cause is currently being debated. In two experiments, we explored how cognitive control and word recognition contribute to the Stroop effect by contrasting cognitive control (via a Simon arrow task), word recognition speed (via a Chinese/English word recognition task) and Stroop susceptibility (via a verbal Stroop task) between proficient and non‐proficient Chinese–English bilinguals. Compared to non‐proficient bilinguals, proficient bilinguals showed better cognitive control at inhibiting irrelevant information, and they were slower at recognising Chinese words but quicker at recognising English words. Critically, we also showed that proficient bilinguals showed a smaller Stroop effect than non‐proficient bilinguals in Chinese but a comparable Stroop effect as non‐proficient bilinguals in English. The results cannot be accounted for by cognitive control or word recognition speed alone; instead, they are best accommodated by assuming that cognitive control and word recognition speed jointly determine the Stroop effect. Thus, we conclude that enhanced cognitive control and delayed word recognition combine to reduce Stroop effect in bilinguals as compared to monolinguals.

© 2014 International Union of Psychological Science