Implicit response-irrelevant number information triggers the SNARC effect: evidence using a neural overlap paradigm

Thomas Mitchell*, Rebecca Bull, Alexandra A. Cleland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


There is evidence from the SNARC (spatial-numerical association of response codes) effect and NDE (numerical distance effect) that number activates spatial representations. Most of this evidence comes from tasks with explicit reference to number, whether through presentation of Arabic digits (SNARC) or through magnitude decisions to nonsymbolic representations (NDE). Here, we report four studies that use the neural overlap paradigm developed by Fias, Lauwereyns, and Lammertyn (2001) to examine whether the presentation of implicit and task-irrelevant numerosity information (nonsymbolic arrays and auditory numbers) is enough to activate a spatial representation of number. Participants were presented with either numerosity arrays (1-9 circles or triangles) to which they made colour (Experiment 1) or orientation (Experiment 2) judgements, or auditory numbers coupled with an on-screen stimulus to which they made a colour (Experiment 3) or orientation (Experiment 4) judgement. SNARC effects were observed only for the orientation tasks. Following the logic of Fias et al., we argue that this SNARC effect occurs as a result of overlap in parietal processing for number and orientation judgements irrespective of modality. Furthermore, we found stronger SNARC effects in the small number range (1-4) than in the larger number range (6-9) for both nonsymbolic displays and auditory numbers. These results suggest that quantity is extracted (and interferes with responses in the orientation task) but this is not exact for the entire number range. We discuss a number of alternative models and mechanisms of numerical processing that may account for such effects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1945-1961
Number of pages17
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • spatial–numerical association of response codes
  • nonsymbolic
  • colour decision
  • orientation decision
  • subitizing


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