Automaticity of access to numerical magnitude and its spatial associations: the role of task and number representation

Alexandra A Cleland, Rebecca Bull

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

3 Citations (Scopus)
75 Downloads (Pure)


Generally, people respond faster to small numbers with left-sided responses and large numbers with right-sided responses, a pattern known as the SNARC (spatial numerical association of response codes) effect. The SNARC effect is interpreted as evidence for amodal automatic access of magnitude and its spatial associations, as it occurs in settings where number is task-irrelevant, and for different number formats. We report five studies designed to establish the degree to which activation of magnitude and its spatial associations is truly automatic and amodal. Based on the notion of autonomous automaticity, we hypothesised that the mere presence of a number form (to which participants made a color decision) would be sufficient to elicit the SNARC effect. However, we found no evidence of a SNARC effect for simple color decisions to Arabic digits (Experiment 1). There was a SNARC effect for color decision to digits when participants recognised the stimulus as a digit before responding (Experiment 2), participants viewed the digit for sufficient time before color onset (Experiments 3 and 5), or there was temporal uncertainty regarding color onset (Experiment 3). There was no SNARC effect for color decision to arrays of circles (Experiment 4), regardless of viewing time or temporal uncertainty. Overall, our results suggest that, while access to magnitude and its spatial associations is not automatic in an “all-or-none” sense, it is certainly at the strong end of automaticity, and that this automatic activation is modality dependent. Our findings are most supportive of conceptual coding accounts of the SNARC effect.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)333-348
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition
Issue number2
Early online date30 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


  • digits
  • non-symbolic number
  • automaticity
  • Digits
  • Nonsymbolic number
  • Automaticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language

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