September 2021
Volume 21, Issue 9
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2021
Bilingual Non-Selective Activation Modulates Attention During Visual Object Search
Author Affiliations
  • Naomi Vingron
    McGill University, Montreal, Canada
    The Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music, Montreal, Canada
  • Noah Furlani
    McGill University, Montreal, Canada
  • Olivia Mendelson
    McGill University, Montreal, Canada
  • Madelaine Thomas
    McGill University, Montreal, Canada
  • Debra Titone
    McGill University, Montreal, Canada
    The Centre for Research on Brain, Language and Music, Montreal, Canada
Journal of Vision September 2021, Vol.21, 2716. doi:
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      Naomi Vingron, Noah Furlani, Olivia Mendelson, Madelaine Thomas, Debra Titone; Bilingual Non-Selective Activation Modulates Attention During Visual Object Search. Journal of Vision 2021;21(9):2716.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Bilinguals concurrently activate representations of word referents within each of their known languages (i.e., non-selective activation). As a result, both first (L1) and second language (L2) communication may be obstructed when words share orthographic form but not meaning (i.e., interlingual homographs). In the case of interlingual homographs, non-selective activation of conflicting representations burdens working memory, as both interpretations remain activated until contextual information resolves ambiguity. The ways in which the bilingual language system manages this has been studied extensively; however, less is known about how it interacts with the visual system in the context of object processing. To investigate how non-selective activation extends to visual object processing, we tested Fifty-eight bilingual participants on a visual object search task that manipulated cross-language ambiguity. Participants first completed this task in their L1 and then their L2. Each block included search targets corresponding to either interlingual homographs or language-unique words. Their task was to decide whether one of the ten images shown in the search array corresponded to a visually presented word cue. When cued with an interlingual homograph word, the search array contained both representations of the word. We further manipulated search difficulty by presenting a semantically related distractor object on some trials. Our results showed that response accuracy was lower and overall reaction times were longer for interlingual homographs compared to language-unique words. Verification times were longest for homograph searches where no semantic distractor was present. This suggests that the additional working memory load introduced by the presence of a semantic distractor does not impact search performance, but may reinforce the target-language context aiding participants’ search performance. More broadly, this suggest that bilingual language processing interacts with visual object processing, as participants flexibly adapted their search strategies, integrating information from the visual display to resolve cross-language ambiguity.


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