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New Insights Into Cognitive Control From Psychological Science

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Read about new insights into cognitive control from Psychological Science and Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Memory and Cognitive Control in Task Switching

Franziska R. Richter and Nick Yeung

Although researchers know that cognitive control affects memory and vice versa, the interconnections between these two have only recently been examined. Participants performed a classification task in which they were shown displays that contained task-relevant and task-irrelevant stimuli. Participants then performed a surprise recognition test that evaluated their memory for the previously presented stimuli. The researchers found that task switching led to worse memory for task-relevant stimuli and better recognition for task-irrelevant stimuli. Participants’ memory for relevant versus irrelevant stimuli also predicted their earlier task-switching performance. This suggests that cognitive control regulates the competition between task-relevant and irrelevant information but that the effectiveness of this regulation varies during task switching.

Bilingualism Enriches the Poor: Enhanced Cognitive Control in Low-Income Minority Children

Pascale M. J. Engel de Abreu, Anabela Cruz-Santos, Carlos J. Tourinho, Romain Martin, and Ellen Bialystok

There is no conclusive evidence that bilingualism provides cognitive advantages. This has led some researchers to suggest that any advantages seen are due to differences in socioeconomic status (SES) rather than bilingualism itself. Monolingual Portuguese-speaking and bilingual Portuguese-Luxembourgish-speaking children from low-SES families were assessed for language and cognitive abilities. Researchers found that bilingualism increased control (a factor composed of selective attention and inhibitory suppression), but not affect representation (a factor composed of abstract reasoning and working memory). The effects of bilingualism did not differ by SES. This suggests that bilingualism is not affected by SES and that it does not increase cognitive ability in a general sense. Instead, bilingualism may selectively influence the ability to deal with cognitive conflict.

Dissociating Levels of Cognitive Control: The Case of Stroop Interference

Julie M. Bugg

The Stroop task, in which participants are asked to name the font color of words written in incongruent hues, has long been used by researchers to assess cognitive control. Although Stroop performance has traditionally been thought to be guided by top-down processes, new research has suggested the presence of several different levels of control that are triggered in different situations. Bugg reviews research examining both top-down and stimulus-driven control processes in the context of the Stroop task and establishes that cognitive control does work at multiple levels within this task.