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Eur J Dev Psychol. 2013 Jan 1;10(4):433-448.

Elementary school children's attentional biases in physical and numerical space.

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Department of Neurology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine ; Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania.


Numbers are conceptualized spatially along a horizontal mental line. This view is supported by mounting evidence from healthy adults and patients with unilateral spatial neglect. Little is known about children's representation of numbers with respect to space. This study investigated elementary school children's directional biases in physical and numerical space to better understand the relation between space and number. We also examined the nature of spatial organization in numerical space. In two separate tasks, children (n=57) were asked to bisect a physical line and verbally estimate the midpoint of number pairs. In general, results indicated leftward biases in both tasks, but the degree of deviation did not correlate between the tasks. In the number bisection task, leftward bias (underestimating the midpoint) increased as a function of numerical magnitude and interval between number pairs. In contrast, a rightward deviation was found for smaller number pairs. These findings suggest that different underlying spatial attentional mechanisms might be directed in physical and numerical space in young school children, which would be integrated in adulthood.


Mental number line; directional asymmetry; physical line bisection; space and number

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