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Christine Schiltz, Giulia Dormal, Romain Martin, Valerie Goffaux; Attentional shifts due to irrelevant numerical cues: Behavioral investigation of a lateralized target discrimination paradigm. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):235. doi: 10.1167/10.7.235.
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Behavioural evidence indicates the existence of a link between numerical representations and visuo-spatial processes. A striking demonstration of this link was provided by Fischer and colleagues (2003), who reported that participants detect a target more rapidly in the left hemifield, if it is preceded by a small number (e.g. 2 or 3) and more rapidly in the right hemifield if preceded by a large number (e.g. 8 or 9). This is strong evidence that numbers orient visuo-spatial attention to different visual hemifields (e.g., left and right) depending on their magnitude (e.g., small and large, respectively). Here, we sought to replicate number-related attentional shifts using a discrimination task. The participants (n=16) were presented 1 digit (1,2 vs. 8,9) at the centre of the screen for 400ms. After 500ms, 1000ms or 2000ms, a target was briefly flashed in either the right or left hemifield and participants had to report its colour (red or green). They were told that the central digit was irrelevant to the task. We hypothesized that the attentional shift induced by the centrally presented numbers should induce congruency effects for the target discrimination task, so that small (or large) numbers would facilitate the processing of left (or right) targets. Our results confirmed this prediction, but only for the shortest digit-target interval (500ms). This is supported by a significant interaction between number magnitude (small/large) and target hemifield (left/right). The link between numerical and spatial representations further predicts a positive relation between number magnitude and the difference in RT between left and right targets. Regression slopes were computed individually and a positive slope was obtained for short number-target interval. These findings indicate that the attentional shifts induced by irrelevant numerical material are independent of the exact nature of target processing (discrimination vs. detection).
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