Placing order in space: the SNARC effect in serial learning

Exp Brain Res. 2010 Mar;201(3):599-605. doi: 10.1007/s00221-009-2063-3. Epub 2009 Nov 4.


The SNARC effect, consisting of a systematic association between numbers and lateralized response, reflects the mental representation of magnitude along a left-to-right mental number line (Dehaene et al. in J Exp Psychol 122:371-396, 1993). Critically, this effect has been reported in the classification of overlearned non-numerical sequences such as letters, days and months (Gevers et al. in Cognition 87:B87-B95, 2003 and Cortex 40:171-172, 2004) suggesting that ordinal, rather than magnitude information, is critical for spatial coding. This study tests the hypothesis of an oriented spatial representation as the privileged way of mentally organizing serial information, by looking for stimulus-response compatibility effects in the processing of a newly acquired arbitrary sequence. Here we report an association between ordinal position of the items and spatial response preference for both order-relevant and order-irrelevant tasks. These results suggest that any ordered information, even when order is not intrinsically relevant to it, is spontaneously mapped in the representational space. This spatial representation is likely to acquire a left-to-right orientation, at least in western cultures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Culture
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imagination / physiology
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mathematical Concepts
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Models, Psychological
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Orientation / physiology*
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Symbolism*
  • Young Adult