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Acta Psychol (Amst). 2011 Jan;136(1):73-80. doi: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2010.10.004. Epub 2010 Nov 13.

The reliability of and the relation between non-symbolic numerical distance effects in comparison, same-different judgments and priming.

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Department of Psychology, University of Leuven, Belgium.


The development of number processing is generally studied by examining the performance on basic number tasks (comparison task, same-different judgment, and priming task). Using these tasks, so-called numerical distance effects are obtained. All these effects are generally explained by assuming a magnitude representation related to a mental number line: magnitudes are represented from left to right with partially overlapping representations for nearby numbers. In this study, we compared the performance of adults on these different tasks using non-symbolic stimuli. First, we investigated whether the effects obtained in these behavioral tasks are reliable. Second, we examined the relation between the three different effects. The results showed that the observed effects in the case of the comparison task and the same-different task proved to be reliable. The numerical distance effect obtained in the priming task, however, was not reliable. In addition, a correlation was found between the distance effects in the comparison task and the same-different task. The priming distance effect did not correlate with the other two effects. These results suggest important differences between distance effects obtained under automatic and intentional task instructions regarding the use of them as indices of mathematical ability.

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