Space in Numerical and Ordinal Information: A Common Construct?

Philipp Alexander Schroeder, Hans-Christoph Nuerk, Christian Plewnia


Space is markedly involved in numerical processing, both explicitly in instrumental learning and implicitly in mental operations on numbers. Besides action decisions, action generations, and attention, the response-related effect of numerical magnitude or ordinality on space is well documented in the Spatial-Numerical Associations of Response Codes (SNARC) effect. Here, right- over left-hand responses become relatively faster with increasing magnitude positions. However, SNARC-like behavioral signatures in non-numerical tasks with ordinal information were also observed and inspired new models integrating seemingly spatial effects of ordinal and numerical metrics. To examine this issue further, we report a comparison between numerical SNARC and ordinal SNARC-like effects to investigate group-level characteristics and individual-level deductions from generalized views, i.e., convergent validity. Participants solved order-relevant (before/after classification) and order-irrelevant tasks (font color classification) with numerical stimuli 1-5, comprising both magnitude and order information, and with weekday stimuli, comprising only ordinal information. A small correlation between magnitude- and order-related SNARCs was observed, but effects are not pronounced in order-irrelevant color judgments. On the group level, order-relevant spatial-numerical associations were best accounted for by a linear magnitude predictor, whereas the SNARC effect for weekdays was categorical. Limited by the representativeness of these tasks and analyses, results are inconsistent with a single amodal cognitive mechanism that activates space in mental processing of cardinal and ordinal information alike. A possible resolution to maintain a generalized view is proposed by discriminating different spatial activations, possibly mediated by visuospatial and verbal working memory, and by relating results to findings from embodied numerical cognition.


SNARC effect; ordinal sequence; days-of-the-week; construct validity

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