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20-05-2015 | Original Article | Uitgave 4/2016

Psychological Research 4/2016

Interference of lateralized distractors on arithmetic problem solving: a functional role for attention shifts in mental calculation

Psychological Research > Uitgave 4/2016
Nicolas Masson, Mauro Pesenti


Solving arithmetic problems has been shown to induce shifts of spatial attention in simple probe-detection tasks, subtractions orienting attention to the left side and additions to the right side of space. Whether these attentional shifts constitute epiphenomena or are critically linked to the calculation process is still unknown. In the present study, we investigate participants’ performance on addition and subtraction solving while they have to detect central or lateralized targets. The results show that lateralized distractors presented in the hemifield congruent to the operation to be solved interfere with arithmetical solving: participants are slower to solve subtractions or additions when distractors are located on the left or on the right, respectively. These results converge with previous data to show that attentional shifts underlie not only number processing but also mental arithmetic. They extend them as they reveal the reverse effect of the one previously reported by showing that inducing attention shifts interferes with the solving of arithmetic problems. They also demonstrate that spatial attentional shifts are part of the calculation procedure of solving mentally arithmetic problems. Their functional role is to access, from the first operand, the representation of the result in a direction congruent to the operation.

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