Recent psycholinguistic research has demonstrated an asymmetrical "switching cost," such that bilinguals are slower when switching into their dominant language (e.g. Meuter & Allport, 1999). These counter-intuitive results, have been used to support theories regarding the cognitive mechanisms governing language switching (e.g. Inhibitory Control). The current study investigates the plasticity of switching costs as a means to understanding how bilinguals control their competing languages.
Thirty Spanish-English bilinguals (10 Spanish-dominant;10 English-dominant; 10 early bilinguals) participated in a cued picture-naming task, such that background color indicated language to be used. Each target picture, was named in both a switch condition, preceded by the opposite language, and non-switch condition. Stimuli were presented in 3 language contexts, varying in the probability of switching languages.
The results, discussed by condition (switch/non-switch) and context, highlight the importance of considering language context in the study of bilingualism, and add to the emerging research on the cognitive mechanisms governing language switching.