Pick the Smaller Number: No Influence of Linguistic Markedness on Three-Digit Number Processing


  • Julia Bahnmueller Orcid
  • Krzysztof Cipora Orcid
  • Silke Melanie Göbel Orcid
  • Hans-Christoph Nuerk
  • Mojtaba Soltanlou Orcid


The symbolic number comparison task has been widely used to investigate the cognitive representation and underlying processes of multi-digit number processing. The standard procedure to establish numerical distance and compatibility effects in such number comparison paradigms usually entails asking participants to indicate the larger of two presented multi-digit Arabic numbers rather than to indicate the smaller number. In terms of linguistic markedness, this procedure includes the unmarked/base form in the task instruction (i.e., large). Here we evaluate distance and compatibility effects in a three-digit number comparison task observed in Bahnmueller et al. (2015, https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01216) using a marked task instruction (i.e., ‘pick the smaller number’). Moreover, we aimed at clarifying whether the markedness of task instruction influences common numerical effects and especially componential processing as indexed by compatibility effects. We instructed German- and English-speaking adults (N = 52) to indicate the smaller number in a three-digit number comparison task as opposed to indicating the larger number in Bahnmueller et al. (2015). We replicated standard effects of distance and compatibility in the new pick the smaller number experiment. Moreover, when comparing our findings to Bahnmueller et al. (2015), numerical effects did not differ significantly between the two studies as indicated by both frequentist and Bayesian analysis. Taken together our data suggest that distance and compatibility effects alongside componential processing of multi-digit numbers are rather robust against variations of linguistic markedness of task instructions.