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Full Access The role of visual experience for spatial numerical associations

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The role of visual experience for spatial numerical associations

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For more content, see Multisensory Research and Spatial Vision.

The topographic representation of space interacts with the mental representation of number. Evidence for such number–space relations have been reported in both synaesthetic and non-synaesthetic participants. Thus far most studies have only examined related effects in sighted participants. For example, the mental number line increases in magnitude from left to right in sighted individuals (Loetscher et al., 2008, Curr. Biol.). What is unclear is whether this association arises from innate mechanisms or requires visual experience early in life to develop in this way. Here we investigated the role of visual experience for the left to right spatial numerical association using a random number generation task in congenitally blind, late blind, and blindfolded sighted participants. Participants orally generated numbers randomly whilst turning their head to the left and right. Sighted participants generated smaller numbers when they turned their head to the left than to the right, consistent with past results. In contrast, congenitally blind participants generated smaller numbers when they turned their head to the right than to the left, exhibiting the opposite effect. The results of the late blind participants showed an intermediate profile between that of the sighted and congenitally blind participants. Visual experience early in life is therefore necessary for the development of the spatial numerical association of the mental number line.

Affiliations: 1: 1Queen Mary University of London, GB; 2: 2Taisho University, JP

The topographic representation of space interacts with the mental representation of number. Evidence for such number–space relations have been reported in both synaesthetic and non-synaesthetic participants. Thus far most studies have only examined related effects in sighted participants. For example, the mental number line increases in magnitude from left to right in sighted individuals (Loetscher et al., 2008, Curr. Biol.). What is unclear is whether this association arises from innate mechanisms or requires visual experience early in life to develop in this way. Here we investigated the role of visual experience for the left to right spatial numerical association using a random number generation task in congenitally blind, late blind, and blindfolded sighted participants. Participants orally generated numbers randomly whilst turning their head to the left and right. Sighted participants generated smaller numbers when they turned their head to the left than to the right, consistent with past results. In contrast, congenitally blind participants generated smaller numbers when they turned their head to the right than to the left, exhibiting the opposite effect. The results of the late blind participants showed an intermediate profile between that of the sighted and congenitally blind participants. Visual experience early in life is therefore necessary for the development of the spatial numerical association of the mental number line.

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1. Loetscher T. , Schwarz U. , Schubiger M. , Brugger P. ( 2008). "Head turns bias the brain’s random number generator", Current Biology Vol 18, R60R62. DOI: . http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2007.11.015
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/content/journals/10.1163/187847612x648486
2012-01-01
2016-12-11

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