Perspective Taking: The Exposure Effect

Samantha Fan

Existing research on bilingual populations has focused primarily on the differences and/or similarities in the performance of monolingual and bilingual children and adults in cognitive and linguistic tasks; less research has focused on their social communication abilities.  Language though, is inherently social. We use it as a tool to communicate with others. Through my doctoral thesis, entitled: Perspective taking: the exposure effect, I demonstrate that early exposure to multiple languages may increase children’s social communicative abilities. I discovered that preschool children from diverse language environments exceed those from monolingual language environments, in their ability to effectively take into account an interlocutor’s visual perspective (Fan, Liberman, Keysar & Kinzler, under review). Ongoing studies seek to reexamine and tease apart whether multilingual exposure directly enhances visual perspective taking or does so indirectly via improvements in executive functioning. This study also seeks to examine the role of early language exposure, in particular the timing of language immersion, as well as the type of language instruction in facilitating communication early in life. This past summer, the Division of the Social Sciences Summer grant has allowed me to pursue future directions such as examining whether these perspective-taking advantages could persist across the lifespan by testing young adults from both multilingual and monolingual language environments in a similar paradigm.