Coding strategies in number space: Memory requirements influence spatial-numerical associations

Oliver Lindemann*, Juan M. Abolafia, Jay Pratt, Harold Bekkering

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    43 Citations (Scopus)


    The tendency to respond faster with the left hand to relatively small numbers and faster with the right hand to relatively large numbers (spatial numerical association of response codes, SNARC effect) has been interpreted as an automatic association of spatial and numerical information. We investigated in two experiments the impact of task-irrelevant memory representations on this effect. Participants memorized three Arabic digits describing a left-to-right ascending number sequence (e.g., 3-4-5), a descending sequence (e.g., 5-4-3), or a disordered sequence (e.g., 5-3-4) and indicated afterwards the parity status of a centrally presented digit (i.e., 1, 2, 8, or 9) with a left/right keypress response. As indicated by the reaction times, the SNARC effect in the parity task was mediated by the coding requirements of the memory tasks. That is, a SNARC effect was only present after memorizing ascending or disordered number sequences but disappeared after processing descending sequences. Interestingly, the effects of the second task were only present if all sequences within one experimental block had the same type of order. Taken together, our findings are inconsistent with the idea that spatial-numerical associations are the result of an automatic and obligatory cognitive process but do suggest that coding strategies might be responsible for the cognitive link between numbers and space.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)515-524
    Number of pages10
    JournalQuarterly journal of experimental psychology
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Apr-2008


    • mental number line
    • SNARC effect
    • coding strategy
    • dual-task interference
    • memory load

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