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18-01-2020 | Original Article | Uitgave 2/2021

Psychological Research 2/2021

Numerals do not need numerosities: robust evidence for distinct numerical representations for symbolic and non-symbolic numbers

Psychological Research > Uitgave 2/2021
Mila Marinova, Delphine Sasanguie, Bert Reynvoet
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In numerical cognition research, it has traditionally been argued that the processing of symbolic numerals (e.g., digits) is identical to the processing of the non-symbolic numerosities (e.g., dot arrays), because both number formats are represented in one common magnitude system—the Approximate Number System (ANS). In this study, we abandon this deeply rooted assumption and investigate whether the processing of numerals and numerosities can be dissociated, using an audio-visual paradigm in combination with various experimental manipulations. In Experiment 1, participants performed four comparison tasks with large symbolic and non-symbolic numbers: (1) number word–digit (2) tones–dots, (3) number word–dots, (4) tones–digit. In Experiment 2, we manipulated the number range (small vs. large) and the presentation modality (visual–auditory vs. auditory–visual). Results demonstrated ratio effects (i.e., the signature of ANS being addressed) in all tasks containing numerosities, but not in the task containing numerals only. Additionally, a cognitive cost was observed when participants had to integrate symbolic and non-symbolic numbers. Therefore, these results provide robust (i.e., independent of presentation modality or number range) evidence for distinct processing of numerals and numerosities, and argue for the existence of two independent number processing systems.

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