Space in Numerical and Ordinal Information: A Common Construct?


  • Philipp Alexander Schroeder Orcid
  • 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.