Buijsman, Stefan & Carlos Tirado | 2019
Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 72 (10), 2423-2436
During the last decades, there have been a large number of studies into the number-related abilities of humans. As a result, we know that humans and non-human animals have a system known as the approximate number system that allows them to distinguish between collections based on their number of items, separately from any counting procedures. Dehaene and others have argued for a model on which this system uses representations for numbers that are spatial in nature and are shared by our symbolic and non-symbolic processing of numbers. However, there is a conflicting theoretical perspective in which there are no representations of numbers underlying the approximate number system, but only quantity-related representations. This perspective would then suggest that there are no shared representations between symbolic and non-symbolic processing. We review the evidence on spatial biases resulting from the activation of numerical representations, for both non-symbolic and symbolic tests. These biases may help decide between the theoretical differences; shared representations are expected to lead to similar biases regardless of the format, whereas different representations more naturally explain differences in biases, and thus behaviour. The evidence is not yet decisive, as the behavioural evidence is split: we expect bisection tasks to eventually favour shared representations, whereas studies on the spatial–numerical association of response codes (SNARC) effect currently favour different representations. We discuss how this impasse may be resolved, in particular, by combining these behavioural studies with relevant neuroimaging data. If this approach is carried forward, then it may help decide which of these two theoretical perspectives on number representations is correct.