The origins of the bilingual advantage in various cognitive tasks are largely unknown. We tested the hypothesis that bilinguals’ early capacities to track their native languages separately and learn about the properties of each may be at the origin of such differences. Spanish-Catalan bilingual and Spanish or Catalan monolingual infants watched silent video recordings of French-English bilingual speakers and were tested on their ability to discern when the language changed from French to English or vice versa. The infants’ performance was compared with that of previously tested French-English bilingual and English monolingual infants. Although all groups of monolingual infants failed to detect the change between English and French, both groups of bilingual infants succeeded. These findings reveal that bilingual experience can modulate the attentional system even without explicit training or feedback. They provide a basis for explaining the ontogeny of the general cognitive advantages of bilinguals.
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