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Int J Psychophysiol. 2012 Jul;85(1):7-16. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2012.02.007. Epub 2012 Feb 17.

Are low and high number magnitudes processed differently while resolving the conflict evoked by the SNARC effect?

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Department of Cognitive Psychology, University of Finance and Management in Warsaw, Poland.


In the brain, numbers are thought to be represented in a spatially organised fashion on what is known as the Mental Number Line (MNL). The SNARC (Spatial-Numerical Association of Response Codes) effect refers to the faster responses to digits when the reaction side is congruent with the digit position on the MNL (e.g. a left-handed response to a small magnitude) and the slowing down of responses (inhibition) in the case of incongruity. We examined the electrophysiological correlates of conflict, which are linked to that of inhibition, to shed light on the relationship between the SNARC effect and executive attention. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded from twenty-nine participants during a parity-judgment task. The participants responded more quickly on congruent than on incongruent trials. The congruency effect was reflected in early sensory (N1, N2) components above parieto-occipital and frontal regions, as well as in the later P3 component above centro-parietal areas. Moreover, both the N1 amplitude and N2 latency were greater with high than low magnitude digit targets. P3 amplitude modulation implies that the SNARC effect is the result of first evoking the parallel processing of digit magnitude categorisation (in the occipital and central areas) and numeric conflict detection (in the parieto-occipital and frontal areas) and secondly conflict monitoring and resolution localised in the centro-parietal and frontal sites. These results also suggest that the left hemisphere specialises in conflict processing of high magnitude digit targets, while the right hemisphere of low digit magnitudes.

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