A working memory account of the interaction between numbers and spatial attention

Jean-Philippe van Dijck, Elger L Abrahamse, Freya Acar, Boris Ketels, Wim Fias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Rather than reflecting the long-term memory construct of a mental number line, it has been proposed that the relation between numbers and space is of a more temporary nature and constructed in working memory during task execution. In three experiments we further explored the viability of this working memory account. Participants performed a speeded dot detection task with dots appearing left or right, while maintaining digits or letters in working memory. Just before presentation of the dot, these digits or letters were used as central cues. These experiments show that the "attentional SNARC-effect" (where SNARC is the spatial-numerical association of response codes) is not observed when only the lastly perceived number cue--and no serially ordered sequence of cues--is maintained in working memory (Experiment 1). It is only when multiple items (numbers in Experiment 2; letters in Experiment 3) are stored in working memory in a serially organized way that the attentional cueing effect is observed as a function of serial working memory position. These observations suggest that the "attentional SNARC-effect" is strongly working memory based. Implications for theories on the mental representation of numbers are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1500-13
Number of pages14
JournalThe Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Association
  • Attention/physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Male
  • Mathematical Concepts
  • Mathematics
  • Memory, Short-Term/physiology
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual/physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time/physiology
  • Space Perception/physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


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