Electrophysiological evidence for notation independence in numerical processing.
BACKGROUND: A dominant view in numerical cognition is that numerical comparisons operate on a notation independent representation (Dehaene, 1992). Although previous human neurophysiological studies using scalp-recorded event-related potentials (ERPs) on the numerical distance effect have been interpreted as supporting this idea, differences in the electrophysiological correlates of the numerical distance effect in symbolic notations (e.g. Arabic numerals) and non-symbolic notations (e.g. a set of visually presented dots of a certain number) are not entirely consistent with this view. METHODS AND RESULTS: Two experiments were conducted to resolve these discrepancies. In Experiment 1, participants performed a symbolic and a non-symbolic numerical comparison task ("smaller or larger than 5?") with numerical values 1-4 and 6-9 while ERPs were recorded. Consistent with a previous report (Temple & Posner, 1998), in the symbolic condition the amplitude of the P2p ERP component (210-250 ms post-stimulus) was larger for values near to the standard than for values far from the standard whereas this pattern was reversed in the non-symbolic condition. However, closer analysis indicated that the reversal in polarity was likely due to the presence of a confounding stimulus effect on the early sensory ERP components for small versus larger numerical values in the non-symbolic condition. In Experiment 2 exclusively large numerosities (8-30) were used, thereby rendering sensory differences negligible, and with this control in place the numerical distance effect in the non-symbolic condition mirrored the symbolic condition of Experiment 1. CONCLUSION: Collectively, the results support the claim of an abstract semantic processing stage for numerical comparisons that is independent of input notation.
Libertus, ME; Woldorff, MG; Brannon, EM
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