Interaction between numbers and size during visual search

Florian Krause*, Harold Bekkering, Jay Pratt, Oliver Lindemann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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The current study investigates an interaction between numbers and physical size (i.e. size congruity) in visual search. In three experiments, participants had to detect a physically large (or small) target item among physically small (or large) distractors in a search task comprising single-digit numbers. The relative numerical size of the digits was varied, such that the target item was either among the numerically large or small numbers in the search display and the relation between numerical and physical size was either congruent or incongruent. Perceptual differences of the stimuli were controlled by a condition in which participants had to search for a differently coloured target item with the same physical size and by the usage of LCD-style numbers that were matched in visual similarity by shape transformations. The results of all three experiments consistently revealed that detecting a physically large target item is significantly faster when the numerical size of the target item is large as well (congruent), compared to when it is small (incongruent). This novel finding of a size congruity effect in visual search demonstrates an interaction between numerical and physical size in an experimental setting beyond typically used binary comparison tasks, and provides important new evidence for the notion of shared cognitive codes for numbers and sensorimotor magnitudes. Theoretical consequences for recent models on attention, magnitude representation and their interactions are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)664–677
Number of pages14
JournalPsychological Research
Issue number3
Early online date3 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - May 2017




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