The role of numerosity in processing nonsymbolic proportions

Fabbri, S., Caviola, S., Tang, J., Zorzi, M. & Butterworth, B., 2012, In : Quarterly journal of experimental psychology. 65, 12, p. 2435-2446 12 p.

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  • The role of numerosity in processing nonsymbolic proportions

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  • Sara Fabbri
  • Sara Caviola
  • Joey Tang
  • Marco Zorzi
  • Brian Butterworth

The difficulty in processing fractions seems to be related to the interference between the whole-number value of the numerator and the denominator and the real value of the fraction. Here we assess whether the reported problems with symbolic fractions extend to the nonsymbolic domain, by presenting fractions as arrays of black and white dots representing the two operands. Participants were asked to compare a target array with a reference array in two separate tasks using the same stimuli: a numerosity task comparing just the number of white dots in the two arrays; and a proportion task comparing the proportion of black and white dots. The proportion task yielded lower accuracy and slower response, confirming that even with nonsymbolic stimuli accessing proportional information is relatively difficult. However, using a congruity manipulation in which the greater numerosity of white dots could co-occur with a lower proportion of them, and vice versa, it was found that both task-irrelevant dimensions would interfere with the task-relevant dimension suggesting that both numerosity and proportion information was automatically accessed. The results indicate that the magnitude of fractions can be automatically and holistically processed in the nonsymbolic domain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2435-2446
Number of pages12
JournalQuarterly journal of experimental psychology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Adult, Analysis of Variance, Female, Humans, Male, Mathematical Concepts, Pattern Recognition, Visual, Photic Stimulation, Reaction Time, Regression Analysis, Symbolism, Young Adult, Journal Article, Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't, SENSE, REAL, WHOLE-NUMBER, FRACTIONS, REPRESENTATIONS, MAGNITUDE, CORTEX, ADULTS

ID: 53855587