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The effect of linguistic proficiency, age of second language acquisition, and length of exposure to a new cultural environment on bilinguals' divergent thinking*



The study argues that, in addition to advantages in conscious attention-demanding processing, bilinguals may also exhibit enhanced unconscious divergent thinking. To investigate this issue, the performance of Russian–English bilingual immigrants and English monolingual native speakers was compared on the Abbreviated Torrance Test for Adults, which is a traditional assessment tool of divergent thinking. The study reveals bilinguals' superiority on divergent thinking tasks that require the ability to simultaneously activate and process multiple unrelated concepts from distant categories. Divergent thinking was facilitated by bilinguals' proficiency in two languages, the age of acquisition of these languages and the length of exposure to the new cultural settings that accompanies the acquisition of a new language. A specific architecture of bilingual memory in which two lexicons are mutually linked to the shared conceptual system is theorized to facilitate the functioning of the language mediated concept activation, thereby encouraging bilinguals' divergent thinking performance.


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Address for correspondence: Anatoliy V. Kharkhurin, Department of International Studies, American University of Sharjah, P.O. Box 26666, Sharjah,


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The research reported in this article was partially supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (No. BCS-0414013). I thank Aneta Pavlenko for her very helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript, Kim Heng Chen for his help with the statistical analysis of the data, and Annie Crookes and Richard Gassan for the proofreading of the manuscript. The paper has also benefited greatly from suggestions made by two anonymous reviewers.



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The effect of linguistic proficiency, age of second language acquisition, and length of exposure to a new cultural environment on bilinguals' divergent thinking*



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