Age of second language acquisition affects nonverbal conflict processing in children: an fMRI study

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In their daily communication, bilinguals switch between two languages, a process that involves the selection of a target language and minimization of interference from a nontarget language. Previous studies have uncovered the neural structure in bilinguals and the activation patterns associated with performing verbal conflict tasks. One question that remains, however is whether this extra verbal switching affects brain function during nonverbal conflict tasks.

In this study, we have used fMRI to investigate the impact of bilingualism in children performing two nonverbal tasks involving stimulus-stimulus and stimulus-response conflicts. Three groups of 8-11-year-old children - bilinguals from birth (2L1), second language learners (L2L), and a control group of monolinguals (1L1) - were scanned while performing a color Simon and a numerical Stroop task. Reaction times and accuracy were logged.

Compared to monolingual controls, bilingual children showed higher behavioral congruency effect of these tasks, which is matched by the recruitment of brain regions that are generally used in general cognitive control, language processing or to solve language conflict situations in bilinguals (caudate nucleus, posterior cingulate gyrus, STG, precuneus). Further, the activation of these areas was found to be higher in 2L1 compared to L2L.

The coupling of longer reaction times to the recruitment of extra language-related brain areas supports the hypothesis that when dealing with language conflicts the specialization of bilinguals hampers the way they can process with nonverbal conflicts, at least at early stages in life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)626-642
Number of pages17
JournalBrain Behav.
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jun 2014


  • Bilingualism; children; conflict;


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