The spatial representation of numbers: evidence from neglect and pseudoneglect

Exp Brain Res. 2009 Jan;192(3):561-9. doi: 10.1007/s00221-008-1623-2. Epub 2008 Nov 5.


The aim of the present paper is to provide an overview of the evidence that links spatial representation with representation of number magnitude. This aim is achieved by reviewing the literature concerning the number interval bisection task in patients with left hemispatial neglect and in healthy participants (pseudoneglect). Phenomena like the Spatial Numerical Association of Response Codes (SNARC) effect and the shifts of covert spatial attention caused by number processing are thought to support the notion that number magnitude is represented along a spatially organized mental number line. However, the evidence provided by chronometric studies is not univocal and is open to alternative, non-spatial interpretations. In contrast, neuropsychological studies have offered convincing evidence that humans indeed represent numbers on a mental number line oriented from left to right. Neglect patients systematically misplace the midpoint of a numerical interval they are asked to bisect (e.g., they say that [5] is halfway between [2] and [6]) and their mistakes closely resemble the typical pattern found in bisection of true visual lines. The presence of dissociations between impaired explicit knowledge and spared implicit knowledge supports the notion that neglect produces a deficit in accessing an intact mental number line, rather than a distortion in the representation of that line. Other results show that the existence of a strong spatial connotation constitutes a specific property of number representations rather than a general characteristic of all ordered sequences.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology
  • Mathematical Concepts*
  • Mental Processes / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Perceptual Disorders / physiopathology
  • Perceptual Disorders / psychology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*