Phasic pupillary responses reveal differential engagement of attentional control in bilingual spoken language processing

Anne L. Beatty-Martínez, Rosa E. Guzzardo Tamargo, Paola E. Dussias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Language processing is cognitively demanding, requiring attentional resources to efficiently select and extract linguistic information as utterances unfold. Previous research has associated changes in pupil size with increased attentional effort. However, it is unknown whether the behavioral ecology of speakers may differentially affect engagement of attentional resources involved in conversation. For bilinguals, such an act potentially involves competing signals in more than one language and how this competition arises may differ across communicative contexts. We examined changes in pupil size during the comprehension of unilingual and codeswitched speech in a richly-characterized bilingual sample. In a visual-world task, participants saw pairs of objects as they heard instructions to select a target image. Instructions were either unilingual or codeswitched from one language to the other. We found that only bilinguals who use each of their languages in separate communicative contexts and who have high attention ability, show differential attention to unilingual and codeswitched speech. Bilinguals for whom codeswitching is common practice process unilingual and codeswitched speech similarly, regardless of attentional skill. Taken together, these results suggest that bilinguals recruit different language control strategies for distinct communicative purposes. The interactional context of language use critically determines attentional control engagement during language processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number23474
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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