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Linkages between Number Concepts, Spatial Thinking, and Directionality of Writing: The SNARC Effect and the REVERSE SNARC Effect in English and Arabic Monoliterates, Biliterates, and Illiterate Arabic Speakers

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The current investigations coordinate math cognition and cultural approaches to numeric thinking to examine the linkages between numeric and spatial processes, and how these linkages are modified by the cultural artifact of writing. Previous research in the adult numeric cognition literature has shown that English monoliterates have a spatialised mental number line which is oriented from left-to-right with smaller magnitudes associated with the left side of space and larger magnitudes are associated with the right side of space. These associations between number and space have been termed the Spatial Numeric Association Response Code Effect (SNARC effect, Dehaene, 1992). The current study investigates the spatial orientation of the mental number line in the following groups: English monoliterates, Arabic monoliterates who use only the right-left writing system, Arabic-English biliterates, and illiterate Arabic speakers who only read numerals. Current results indicate, for the first time, a Reverse SNARC effect for Arabic monoliterates, such that the mental number line had a right-to-left directionality. Furthermore, a weakened Reverse SNARC was observed for Arabic-English biliterates, and no effect was observed among Illiterate Arabic speakers. These findings are especially notable since left-right biases are neurologically supported and are observed in pre-literate children regardless of which writing system is used by adults. The broader implications of how cultural artifacts affect basic numeric cognition will be discussed.


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