The Effects of Depression on Number Perception and its Implications for Theories of Numerical Cognition

Dale J. Cohen, Katherine A. Barker, Madeline R. White


Most theories of numerical cognition assume that the perception of a quantity is independent of that which the quantity describes (termed an abstract quantity representation). Beck’s cognitive theory of depression, in contrast, assumes that depressed individuals maintain negative perceptual biases and that depressed individuals’ perception of quantity will be dependent on that which the quantity describes. Here, we explore the nature of quantity representations by assessing whether level of depression and valence of events influences individuals’ perceptions of numerical quantities. In a number bisection task, we presented participants with three quantities: one associated with the time until a positive event, one associated with the time until a negative event, and a target number. The participant was asked to judge whether the quantity denoted by the target number was closer to the time until the positive or negative event. Results indicated that event valence influenced the perception of quantity and this perceptual bias interacted with the level of depression. Thus, these findings indicate that quantity representations are malleable and are represented non-abstractly in the brain.


depression; numerical cognition; numerical bias; number bisection; quantity representation; abstract quantity representation

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