Bilingual Experience & Cognition Lab

Alessandra Macbeth, Ph.D.

Welcome! I am a new Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at APU, beginning in Fall 2020. I earned my Ph.D. from the University of California, Riverside, and prior to that I attended Pepperdine University where I earned my B.A. in Psychology. I am a cognitive scientist by training and have always been interested in the cognitive processes underlying memory and language abilities. I have lived in Southern California my entire life and appreciate the great linguistic diversity that this region of the country has to offer.

Research Interests: I am broadly interested in bilingualism, or the ability to speak two languages fluently. There has been much debate recently about whether being bilingual can provide cognitive advantages, and my research contributes to this ongoing dialogue. There is also evidence to suggest that no two bilinguals are exactly alike – in other words, each bilingual has unique language experiences that shape their linguistic abilities and patterns of language use, which can further influence cognition as well.

Current Projects:

Code-Switching and Creativity

When a bilingual switches between languages (known as code-switching), they are using innovation and flexible thinking to help them decide which word or phrase to speak, and I am investigating how this relates to creativity.

Some research questions include:

  • Does the context in which a bilingual regularly code-switches affect how creative they are?

  • Are bilinguals who frequently code-switch more cognitively flexible and open to new experiences?

  • Do bilinguals perform differently on verbal v. nonverbal tests of creativity compared to monolinguals?

Eavesdropping on Bilingual Language Use

Using a device called the Electronically Activated Recorder (EAR), I sample snippets of bilinguals’ everyday speech in order to get a sense for how bilinguals utilize their two languages on a daily basis.

Some research questions include:

  • Does the way in which bilinguals report their language use on a questionnaire match how they are using their languages in day-to-day life?

  • Can we predict bilingual advantages/disadvantages using the speech samples that we capture from these bilinguals?

  • In what contexts do bilinguals prefer to use one language over another? When do bilinguals choose to switch between languages, and what does language switching tell us about proficiency in each language?

Exploring Bilingual Memory Abilities

Past research has shown that bilinguals are good at inhibiting (suppressing) automatic responses to particular stimuli, and I am interested in whether this inhibitory advantage extends into the memory domain.

Some research questions include:

  • Are bilinguals better than monolinguals at inhibiting older memory traces in order to focus on more current information, and do these effects differ by age?

  • Do bilinguals show better inhibitory abilities on long term vs. short term memory tasks?

  • Would intensive training in a second language improve these inhibitory abilities in the memory domain?

Research Openings: I am currently accepting both graduate and undergraduate students into my lab. Some desired qualifications for those who are interested include:

  • Time commitment of one year, at least 6 hours/week

  • The ability to speak, read, and write in an additional language other than English

  • Attention to detail, eagerness to learn, and a positive attitude!