Núñez, R., Doan, D., Nikoulina, A. (2011) Squeezing, striking, and vocalizing: Is number representationfundamentally spatial? Cognition. (Download)
Numbers are fundamental entities in mathematics, but their cognitive bases are unclear. Abundant research points to linear space as a natural grounding for number representation. But, is number representation fundamentally spatial? We disentangle number representation from standard number-to-line reporting methods, and compare numerical estimations in educated participants using line-reporting with three nonspatial reporting conditions (squeezing, bell-striking, and vocalizing). All three cases of nonspatial-reporting consistently reproduced well-established results obtained with number-line methods. Furthermore, unlike line-reporting—and congruent with the psychophysical Weber–Fechner law—nonspatial reporting systematically produced logarithmic mappings for all nonsymbolic stimuli. Strikingly, linear mappings were obtained exclusively in conditions with culturally mediated elements (e.g., words). These results suggest that number representation is not fundamentally spatial, but builds on a deeper magnitude sense that manifests spatially and nonspatially mediated by magnitude, stimulus modality, and reporting condition. Number-to-space mappings—although ubiquitous in the modern world—do not seem to be rooted directly in brain evolution but have been culturally privileged and enhanced.