Implicit response-irrelevant number information triggers the SNARC effect: Evidence using a neural overlap paradigm

Thomas Mitchell, Rebecca Bull, Alexandra Alice Cleland

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24 Citations (Scopus)
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There is evidence from the SNARC (spatial numerical association of response codes) effect and NDE (numerical distance effect) that number activates spatial representations. Most of this evidence comes from tasks with explicit reference to number, whether through presentation of Arabic digits (SNARC) or through magnitude decisions to non-symbolic representations (NDE). Here, we report four studies that use the neural overlap paradigm developed by Fias, Lauwereyns and Lammertyn (2001) to examine whether the presentation of implicit and task-irrelevant numerosity information (non-symbolic arrays and auditory numbers) is enough to activate a spatial representation of number. Participants were presented with either numerosity arrays (1-9 circles or triangles) to which they made colour (Experiment 1) or orientation (Experiment 2) judgements, or auditory numbers coupled with an on-screen stimulus to which they made a colour (Experiment 3) or orientation (Experiment 4) judgement . SNARC effects were observed only for the orientation tasks. Following the logic of Fias et al., we argue that this SNARC effect occurs as a result of overlap in parietal processing for number and orientation judgements irrespective of modality. Furthermore, we found stronger SNARC effects in the small number range (1-4) compared to the larger number range (6-9) for both non-symbolic displays and auditory numbers. These results suggest that quantity is extracted (and interferes with responses in the orientation task) but this is not exact for the entire number range. We discuss a number of alternative models and mechanisms of numerical processing that may account for such effects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1945-1961
Number of pages17
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number10
Early online date8 Mar 2012
Publication statusPublished - 23 Apr 2012


  • spatial-numerical association of response codes
  • nonsymbolic
  • colour decision
  • orientation decision
  • subitizing


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