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Psychol Res. 2001 Nov;65(4):250-9.

Two routes for the processing of verbal numbers: evidence from the SNARC effect.

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  • Department of Experimental Psychology, Ghent University, Henri Dunantlaan 2, 9000 Ghent, Belgium. Wim.fias@rug.ac.be


The functional locus of the semantic system is an important issue in number processing. In the present article, the necessity of addressing a central semantic magnitude system in the processing of printed verbal number words is evaluated by looking at the presence of a spatial-numerical association of response codes or SNARC effect. This effect consists of an association of number magnitude and response-preference (preferred responses to small numbers with the left hand and to large numbers with the right hand) and reflects semantic access. Two experiments were run. In Experiment 1, participants performed a parity judgment task which requires access to number semantics. A SNARC effect was observed. In Experiment 2 a phoneme monitoring task was used, which can, in principle, be performed through direct asemantic transcoding. No SNARC effect occurred. Apparently, written number words access the semantic system only if this is necessary for correct task completion. Hence, a semantic and an asemantic route can be postulated for the processing of word numerals. These observations contrast with the processing of Arabic numerals for which semantic effects are omnipresent. Implications of this explicit demonstration of a dissimilarity between the processing of digits and of number words are discussed.

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