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Language, Cognition and Neuroscience

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Two studies investigated how cultural context and familiarity impact lexical access in Korean-English bilingual and English monolingual adults. ERPs were recorded while participants decided whether a word and picture matched or not. Pictures depicted versions of objects that were prototypically associated with North American or Korean culture and named in either English or Korean, creating culturally congruent and incongruent trials. For bilinguals, culturally congruent trials facilitated responding but ERP results showed that images from both cultures were processed similarly. For monolinguals, culturally incongruent pairs produced longer RTs and larger N400s than congruent items, indicating more effortful processing. Thus, an unfamiliar culture impeded linguistic processing for monolinguals but facilitated it for bilinguals familiar with that culture. Study 2 presented images that were more or less familiar and both groups replicated the pattern for monolinguals in Study 1. Therefore, in Study 1 monolinguals responded to familiarity but bilinguals responded to culture.

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Berkes, M., Friesen, D. C., & Bialystok, E. (2018). Cultural context as a biasing factor for language activation in bilinguals. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 1-17. doi: 10.1080/23273798.2018.1446541

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