Summing up: A functional role of eye movements along the mental number line for arithmetic.

Hartmann, Matthias (2022). Summing up: A functional role of eye movements along the mental number line for arithmetic. Acta psychologica, 230, p. 103770. Elsevier 10.1016/j.actpsy.2022.103770

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In Western cultures, small-left and large-right spatial-numerical associations are constantly found in various simple number processing tasks. It has recently been suggested that spatial associations are also involved in more complex number processing, for example that individuals make rightward or upward "mental" movements along the number line during addition, and leftward or downward movements during subtraction. In line with this, it has been shown that participants' spontaneous eye movements on a blank screen during upward and downward counting follow such associations. The present research investigated whether eye movements along the number line are simply an epiphenomenon of the recruitment of a spatial reference frame, or whether they play a functional role for the arithmetic computation. This question was addressed by using multi-step problems (e.g., 59 + 5 + 4 + 3) that show a larger proportion of computation (vs. retrieval) when compared to single-step problems (e.g., 59 + 5), as confirmed in Pretest 1. Moreover, the question was addressed only for addition problems and vertical eye movements, because spatial-arithmetic associations were not found in the other conditions (subtraction, horizontal eye movements) in Pretest 2. In the main experiment, participants (n = 29) solved addition problems while following a moving dot with their eyes (smooth pursuit) either in a congruent (upward) or incongruent (downward) direction, or while keeping their eyes fixated on to the center of the screen, or while moving their eyes freely on a blank screen. Arithmetic performance was faster in the congruent condition (upward eye movements) when compared to the other conditions (downward eye movements, central fixation, free viewing). These results suggest that vertical shifts in spatial attention along the mental number line are functionally involved in addition. The results support the view of shared mechanisms for directing spatial attention in external (visual) and representational (number space). Implications for embodied views of number processing are discussed.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology
07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Cognitive Psychology, Perception and Methodology

UniBE Contributor:

Maalouli-Hartmann, Matthias


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology








Pubmed Import

Date Deposited:

27 Oct 2022 06:59

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 16:27

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Eye movements SNARC Spatial attention Spatial-arithmetic associations




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