Pseudoneglect for the bisection of mental number lines

Andrea Loftus, M.E.R. Nicholls, J.B. Mattingley, H.L. Chapman, J.L. Bradshaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

52 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Patients with unilateral neglect of the left side bisect physical lines to the right whereas individuals with an intact brain bisect lines slightly to the left (pseudoneglect). Similarly, for mental number lines, which are arranged in a left-to-right ascending sequence, neglect patients bisect to the right. This study determined whether individuals with an intact brain show pseudoneglect for mental number lines. In Experiment 1, participants were presented with visual number triplets (e.g., 16, 36, 55) and determined whether the numerical distance was greater on the left or right side of the inner number. Despite changing the spatial configuration of the stimuli, or their temporal order, the numerical length on the left was consistently overestimated. The fact that the bias was unaffected by physical stimulus changes demonstrates that the bias is based on a mental representation. The leftward bias was also observed for sets of negative numbers (Experiment 2)—demonstrating not only that the number line extends into negative space but also that the bias is not the result of an arithmetic distortion caused by logarithmic scaling. The leftward bias could be caused by a rounding-down effect. Using numbers that were prone to large or small rounding-down errors, Experiment 3 showed no effect of rounding down. The task demands were changed in Experiment 4 so that participants determined whether the inner number was the true arithmetic centre or not. Participants mistook inner numbers shifted to the left to be the true numerical centre—reflecting leftward overestimation. The task was applied to 3 patients with right parietal damage with severe, moderate, or no spatial neglect (Experiment 5). A rightward bias was observed, which depended on the severity of neglect symptoms. Together, the data demonstrate a reliable and robust leftward bias for mental number line bisection, which reverses in clinical neglect. The bias mirrors pseudoneglect for physical lines and most likely reflects an expansion of the space occupied by lower numbers on the left side of the line and a contraction of space for higher numbers located on the right.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)925-945
JournalTHE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY
Volume62
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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