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On the ambiguity regarding the relationship between sequential congruency effects, bilingual advantages in cognitive control, and the disengagement of attention

1 Language, Attention, and Cognitive Engineering Laboratory, Department of Psychology, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, CA, United States
2 Department of Psychology, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, NM, United States

Grundy, Bialystok, and colleagues have reported that at short response-stimulus intervals bilinguals have smaller sequential congruency effects in flanker tasks compared to monolinguals. They interpret these differences to mean that bilinguals are more efficient at disengaging attentional control. Ten empirical studies are presented that show no differences between bilinguals and monolinguals under conditions that produced robust sequential congruency effects. These null results are discussed with respect to the rate at which sequential congruency effects dissipate and the fact these effects are not adaptive in the sense of improving overall performance. Arguments made by Goldsmith and Morton [1] that smaller sequential congruency effects should not be interpreted as “advantages” are extended. Evidence is also presented that neither simple congruency effects, nor sequential congruency effects, correlate across tasks. This lack of convergent validity is inconsistent with the hypothesis that either provides a measure of domain-general control that could underlie an advantage accrued through experience in switching languages. Results from other tasks purporting to show bilingual advantages in the disengagement of attention are also reviewed. We conclude that sequential congruency effects in nonverbal interference tasks and differences in the rate of disengaging attention are unlikely to contribute to our understanding of bilingual language control and that future research might productively examine differences in proactive rather than reactive control.
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