ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2020, Vol. 52 ›› Issue (9): 1071-1086.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2020.01071

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The influence of multilingualism and multiculturalism on individual and social switching: Evidence from the Xibe

GUO Renhao, WANG Ting, ZHANG Jijia   

  1. Key Research Center for National Psychology and Education, the National Education Development Center of the Ministry of Education, Beijing 100872, China
  • Received:2019-09-10 Published:2020-09-25 Online:2020-07-24
  • Supported by:
    This research was funded by National Ethnic Issues Research Key Project “Minority students bilingual learning cognitive law research”(2017-GMA-004);“Research on social exclusion in the context of social change”(16XNLQ05);The Scientific Research Fund of Renmin University of China


Humans are quintessentially social, yet much of cognitive psychology has focused on the individual, in individual settings. The literature on joint action is one of the most prominent exceptions. Joint-action research studies the sociality of our mental representations by examining how the tasks of other people around us affect our own task performance. Executive functions are a family of general-purpose cognitive processes that allow us to regulate cognition. The main executive functions are inhibition, shifting, and updating of working memory. Growing evidence suggests that executive functions can be automatically activated in non-social contexts as well as social ones. It is necessary to test whether people automatically engage in doing the tasks their partners do even when it requires executive functions.
The Xibe is one of the ethnic groups in China, mainly inhabits Liaoning, Jilin, and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. The “westward migration” separated the Xibe in Xinjiang and Northeast China and embarked on different development paths. Xibe living in Xinjiang is in a multilingual culture, which not only retains the Xibe language (part of the Tungus-Manchu group of the Altaic phylum), but also absorbs the language and culture of the surrounding ethnic groups, such as the Uigur and Kazak. While the Northeast Xibe merges with the Han ethnic group and gradually loses their own ethnic culture and language. The present study investigates the influence of multi-language and multi-culture on social cognitive function, using a task-switching paradigm to examine one of the core executive functions, which is switching.
In Experiment 1, the classical cognitive switching task was conducted to compare cognitive flexibility between the Xingjiang Xibe and the Northeast Xibe. Participants performed either a parity task (odd or even) or a magnitude task (bigger or smaller than 5), according to the frame around the number (diamond or square). The results showed that Xingjiang Xibe have smaller switch costs in the RT measure and greater accuracy. Experiment 2 employed socially relevant stimuli (faces) to tap into the switching flexibility between 2 types of categories (age and gender) and replicated the cognitive benefits of Xingjiang Xibe. These results showed that Xingjiang Xibe has the switching flexibility advantage in individual setting.
Experiment 3 compared the switching flexibility of Xingjiang and Northeast Xibe using task-switching paradigm. A switching task was distributed between two participants. Each participant performed only one of the tasks, and did nothing on the trials of the other. In the social condition, two participants shared a computer. Each performed his task on his trials, and did nothing on the trials of the other participant. In the solo (control) condition, there was only one participant, who passively viewed the stimuli when it was not his turn. There were evident switch costs in the social condition and Xingjiang Xibe showed bigger switch costs compared with the Northeast Xibe, which meant they were more automatically engaged in this joint-action situation. It might be argued that, in the social condition, participants were distracted by the presence of a partner, or that they were sometimes uncertain about whose turn it was, and these factors lowered their efficiency. These costs are referred as turn-taking costs. In order to address this issue, Experiment 4 isolated turn-taking costs from task-switching costs by adding a condition in which two participants took turns, but they performed an identical task. This condition didn’t result in switch costs, indicating that costs in Experiment 3 should be interpreted as switching costs. Experiment 5 applied eye test to further prove that Xingjiang Xibe had strong individual tendency to understand the others’ intentions.
In summary, the results showed that multilingualism and multiculturalism have different effects on cognitive switching function, positive effect in individual context and negative effect in social context. The results of this study provide important inspiration for the construction of a multi-ethnic country.

Key words: Xinjiang Xibe, Northeast Xibe, joint action, cognitive switching function