The role of numerical and non-numerical cues in nonsymbolic number processing

evidence from the line bisection task

Alexandra A. Cleland*, Rebecca Bull

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

9 Citations (Scopus)


In line bisection tasks, adults and children bisect towards the numerically larger of two nonsymbolic numerosities [de Hevia, M. D., & Spelke, E. S. (2009). Spontaneous mapping of number and space in adults and young children. Cognition, 110, 198–207. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2008.11.003]. However, it is not clear whether this effect is driven by number itself or rather by visual cues such as subtended area [Gebuis, T., & Gevers, W. (2011). Numbers and space: Indeed a cognitive illusion! A reply to de Hevia and Spelke (2009). Cognition, 121, 248–252. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2010.09.008]. Furthermore, this effect has only been demonstrated with flanking displays of two and nine items. Here, we report three studies that examined whether this “spatial bias” effect occurs across a range of absolute and ratio numerosity differences; in particular, we examined whether the bias would occur when both flankers were outside the subitizing range. Additionally, we manipulated the subtended area of the stimulus and the aggregate surface area to assess the influence of visual cues. We found that the spatial bias effect occurred for a range of flanking numerosities and for ratios of 3:5 and 5:6 when subtended area was not controlled (Experiment 1). However, when subtended area and aggregate surface area were held constant, the biasing effect was reversed such that participants bisected towards the flanker with fewer items (Experiment 2). Moreover, when flankers were identical, participants bisected towards the flanker with larger subtended area or larger aggregate surface area (Experiments 2 and 3). On the basis of these studies, we conclude that the spatial bias effect for nonsymbolic numerosities is primarily driven by visual cues.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1844-1859
Number of pages16
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • nonsymbolic
  • number
  • line bisection
  • magnitude

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