Working Memory, Visuospatial Memory, and Controlled Attention in Bilingual Children Mahchid Namazi, MSc and Elin Thordardottir, PhD McGill University In this research project involving two studies, we explored the relationship between short-term memory, working memory, and controlled attention in young bilingual and monolingual children. Previous research has shown that balanced bilinguals outperform monolinguals on the Simon Task (Bialystok, 1999) – a task in which children press one of two buttons corresponding to a shape of two different colours on the computer screen. On congruent trials, the coloured shape and its corresponding button are on the same side. On incongruent trials, the shape appears on the opposite side of the to be pressed button. Measures of accuracy and reaction time are taken for both types of trials. The finding that bilingual children are faster than their monolingual counterparts on incongruent trials has been interpreted as bilingualism leading to an advantage in controlled attention (Biaylstok, 1999). These studies, however, have not included measures of verbal working memory, verbal short-term memory and visuospatial memory. We reasoned that in addition to testing controlled attention, the Simon task places a significant demand on working memory because children need to remember a complex rule and keep it in mind while completing the task. This study, therefore, aims to examine the influence of verbal working memory, verbal short-term memory, and visuospatial memory on performance on the Simon task in order to better understand the nature of the already documented bilingual advantage on this task. Study 1 Background In the first study, we compared the performance of French-English simultaneous bilingual children with French and English monolinguals (N=45; 29 girls and 16 boys) on the Simon Task. Groups were matched on age, nonverbal IQ, forward digit span in English, forward digit span in French, and on visuospatial memory. The bilingual group had a mean age of 58 months, the French monolinguals a mean age of 59.4 months, and the English monolinguals a mean age of 58.47 months (F(2,42) = .398, p = .674). To be included in the study, bilingual children had to have been exposed to English and French 40-60% of the time prior to age 3, with less than 5 hours per week of exposure to the other or any other language. To be included in the monolingual group, children had to have been exposed to English or French from birth with less than 5 hours per week of exposure to the other or any other language. Verbal working memory was measured by the children’s Competing Language Processing Task (Dollaghan & Campbell, 1998); verbal short-term memory was measured using the non-word repetition task (Gathercole & Baddeley, 1994), and visuo-spatial memory was measured by the pattern recall task (Jarrold, Baddeley, & Hughes, 1999). Results Analysis of variance indicated that the groups did not differ significantly on listening span (in English and French, p=.418), on non-word repetition (in English and French, p=.178), or on visuospatial memory (p=.514). Therefore although the groups were matched a priori only on age and nonverbal IQ, testing reveals that they were also matched on verbal working memory, verbal short-term memory, and visuospatial memory. Analysis of variance revealed no significant difference in either reaction time (RT) or mean accuracy on either the congruent or incongruent trials of the Simon task between the bilingual group and either monolingual group (RT congruent trials: p=.770; RT incongruent trials: p = .851; accuracy congruent trials: p = .701; accuracy incongruent trials: p=.787). Therefore, in contrast to previous research, a bilingual advantage was not observed on the Simon task in groups of children that were matched on age, nonverbal IQ, verbal short-term memory, verbal working memory, and visuospatial memory. Univariate analysis of variance on our background measures revealed a significant difference between groups on maternal education favouring the bilingual group: F(2,42)=2.635, p<.01) and on receptive vocabulary favouring the English monolinguals (F(1,28)=5.552, p<.05). For this reason, we decided to run a MANOVA with maternal education and receptive vocabulary as covariates. These analyses also failed to reveal a significant difference between the bilingual and monolingual groups on the Simon task. In order to further investigate the relationship between different measures of memory and controlled attention, we examined the bivariate correlation between verbal working memory, verbal short-term memory, visuospatial memory, and the four measures of the Simon Task. Results revealed significant correlations between all four Simon Task measures and visuospatial memory as follows: RT on congruent trials, r = -.340, p<.05; RT on incongruent trials, r = -.320, p<.05; accuracy on congruent trials, r = .516, p<.01; accuracy on incongruent trials, r = .663, p<.01. These results indicate that children who had higher scores on the visuospatial memory task were more accurate on the Simon task. The results also reveal a speed-accuracy trade-off on the Simon task such that greater accuracy was associated with higher RTs. Study 2 Background In the second study, we were interested in whether bilingual and monolingual children differed in a verbal measure of auditory controlled attention. A second aim was to look at the relationship between auditory controlled attention and verbal memory. Auditory controlled attention here refers to attending to a speaker in one language while ignoring an irrelevant, but meaningful, conversation taking place in the other language in the background at a reduced volume. We could not find any study that had looked specifically at the accuracy of sentence comprehension in bilingual children in the context of background meaningful conversation in the other language, as compared to their monolingual peers. Research with adult monolinguals investigating the cocktail party phenomenon has shown that individuals with low working memory spans recall their own name in an unattended, irrelevant message (Conway, Cowan, & Bunting, 2001). Other research has shown that older adults’ reduced efficiency in controlled attention is a crucial factor in their difficulty in recalling target speech in the presence of a background of competing speech (Tun, O’Kane, & Wingfield, 2002). Monolingual children’s perception of speech in multitalker babble relative to that of adults has also been investigated showing that children required more favorable signal to noise ratios to achieve comparable performance in low noise (Fallon, Trehub, & Schneider, 2000). Research with children learning English as a second language (L2) has looked at the effect of classroom noise on attention and speech perception – word recognition performance was reduced significantly for L2 children relative to their monolingual English counterparts (Nelson, Khonert, Sabur, & Shaw, 2005). We wanted to extend these findings to verbal auditory controlled attention in simultaneous bilingual children. Participants were the same as those outlined in the first study. Recall that the children were matched on age, nonverbal IQ, forward digit span, verbal short-term memory, verbal working memory, and visuospatial memory. The measure of auditory controlled attention was a computerized sentence comprehension (in English or French) task with a competing meaningful story in the background in either English or French. Children listened to two sets of sentences in one language (in the case of monolinguals) or both languages (in the case of bilinguals) and touched the picture, in a forced choice paradigm, that was associated with the sentence they heard. At the same time, a story in one (for the first set of sentences) and then the other language (for the second set of sentences) was played in the background at reduced loudness (10dBA) relative to the sentences. The order of list presentation was counterbalanced. Children were instructed to try to ignore the person who was not talking about the pictures. Results: Analysis of variance revealed no significant difference between either monolingual group and the bilinguals: French sentence comprehension (with English story), p=.882; French sentence comprehension (with French story), p=.330; English sentence comprehension (English story), p=.201; and English sentence comprehension (with French Story), p = .304. In the next analysis, we looked at the relationship between performance on the auditory controlled attention task and verbal working memory (CLPT- Competing Language Processing Task, a test of listening span) as well as verbal short term memory (nonword repetition). We ran a bivariate correlation on the following variables: auditory controlled attention in each language, nonword repetition in each language, CLPT listening span in each language. For the bilingual group, there were significant correlations between the auditory controlled attention task and listening span in French only as follows: French sentence comprehension (with English story), r = .547, p<.05; English sentence comprehension (with English story), r = .587, p<.05; English sentence comprehension (with French story), r = .688, p<.01. For the French monolingual group, there was a significant correlation between auditory controlled attention and listening span in French for both lists as follows: English story, r = .734, p<.01 and French story, r = .598, p<.05. There was no significant correlation between auditory controlled attention and listening span in English for the English monolinguals. There were also no significant correlations between nonword repetition and auditory controlled attention for any of the groups. Conclusions Findings from this first study failed to confirm the bilingual advantage in controlled attention noted in previous research. The significant correlations between performance on the Simon Task and visuospatial memory demonstrate that children with better visuospatial memories also have better visual controlled attention. The failure to confirm a bilingual advantage could be due to differences in the strict matching between groups on multiple measures as well as on how bilingualism was operationalized. In the second study, we did not find any differences between the three groups on a measure of auditory controlled attention. Performance on auditory controlled attention was related to number of words recalled on the CLPT for the bilingual and French monoligual groups. Reference List Bialystok, E. (1999). Cognitive complexity and attentional control in the bilingual mind. Child Development, 70, 636-644. Conway, A.R.A., Cowan, N., and Bunting, M.F. (2001). The cocktail party phenomenon revisited: The importance of working memory capacity. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 8 (2), 331-335. Gaulin, C.A. and Campbell, T.F. (1994). Procedure for assessing verbal working memory in normal school-age children: some preliminary data. Percept mot skills, Vol.79, 55-64. Fallon, M., Trehub, S.E., and Schneider, B.A. (2000). Children’s perception of speech in multitalker babble. J. Acoust. Soc. Am., 108 (60), 3023-3029. Gathercole, V. and Baddeley, A.D. (1994). The children’s test of nonword repetition: A test of phonological working memory. Memory, 22 (2), 103-127. Jarrold, C., Baddeley, A.D., and Hewes, A.K. (1999) Genetically dissociated components of working memory] evidence from Down’s and Williams syndrome Neuropsychologia, 26, 637-651. Nelson, P., Khonert, K., Sabur, S., and Shaw, D. (2005). Classroom noise and children learning through a second language: Double jeopardy? Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 36, 219-229. Tun, P.A., O’Kane, G., and Wingfield, A. (2002). Distraction by competing speech in young and older adult listeners. Psychology and Aging, 17 (3), 453-467.