Spatial attention and the mental number line: evidence for characteristic biases and compression

Neuropsychologia. 2007 Apr 8;45(7):1400-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2006.11.002. Epub 2006 Dec 8.


Numbers are often proposed to be represented spatially as lying along a mental number line. The present study examined whether the direction of spatial attention operates similarly in physical and numerical space. Participants bisected physical lines by indicating the perceived center and "bisected" the mental number line by estimating (without calculating) the number midway between two others. Healthy participants generally show a slight leftward bias (pseudoneglect) when bisecting physical lines. In the present study, pseudoneglect was also observed on mental number line bisection and, importantly, was greater for participants who showed stronger pseudoneglect on physical line bisection. This finding suggests that hemispheric asymmetries in spatial attention operate similarly in physical and numerical space. Furthermore, this bias increased with the average of the numbers, consistent with the proposal that the spatial representation of the mental number line is nonlinearly compressive, with pairs of numbers lying closer together as their magnitude increases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Bias*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mathematics
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reference Values
  • Space Perception / physiology*