The spatial representation of numerical and non-numerical ordered sequences: Insights from a random generation task

Maria Grazia Di Bono, Marco Zorzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

It is widely believed that numbers are spatially represented from left to right on the mental number line. Whether this spatial format of representation is specific to numbers or is shared by non-numerical ordered sequences remains controversial. When healthy participants are asked to randomly generate digits they show a systematic small-number bias that has been interpreted in terms of "pseudoneglect in number space". Here we used a random generation task to compare numerical and non-numerical order. Participants performed the task at three different pacing rates and with three types of stimuli (numbers, letters, and months). In addition to a small-number bias for numbers, we observed a bias towards "early" items for letters and no bias for months. The spatial biases for numbers and letters were rate independent and similar in size, but they did not correlate across participants. Moreover, letter generation was qualified by a systematic forward direction along the sequence, suggesting that the ordinal dimension was more salient for letters than for numbers in a task that did not require its explicit processing. The dissociation between numerical and non-numerical orders is consistent with electrophysiological and neuroimaging studies and suggests that they rely on at least partially different mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2348-2362
Number of pages15
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Volume66
Issue number12
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Keywords

  • Numerical cognition
  • Ordered sequences
  • Random generation task
  • Rate dependency
  • Spatial cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Psychology(all)
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Medicine(all)

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