Inhibitory control and visuo-spatial reversibility in piaget's seminal number conservation task: A high-density ERP study

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Abstract

The present high-density event-related potential (ERP) study on 13 adults aimed to determine whether number conservation relies on the ability to inhibit the overlearned length-equals-number strategy and then imagine the shortening of the row that was lengthened. Participants performed the number-conservation task and, after the EEG session, the mental imagery task. In the number-conservation task, first two rows with the same number of tokens and the same length were presented on a computer screen (COV condition) and then, the tokens in one of the two rows were spread apart (INT condition). Participants were instructed to determine whether the two rows had an identical number of tokens. In the mental imagery task, two rows with different lengths but the same number of tokens were presented and participants were instructed to imagine the tokens in the longer row aligning with the tokens in the shorter row. In the number-conservation task, we found that the amplitudes of the centro-parietal N2 and fronto-central P3 were higher in the INT than in the COV conditions. In addition, the differences in response times between the two conditions were correlated with the differences in the amplitudes of the fronto-central P3. In light of previous results reported on the number-conservation task in adults, the present results suggest that inhibition might be necessary to succeed the number-conservation task in adults even when the transformation of the length of one of the row is displayed. Finally, we also reported correlations between the speed at which participants could imagine the shortening of one of the row in the mental imagery task, the speed at which participants could determine that the two rows had the same number of tokens after the tokens in one of the row were spread apart and the latency of the late positive parietal component in the number-conservation task. Therefore, performing the number-conservation task might involve mental transformation processes in adults. © 2013 Borst, Simon, Vidal and Houdé.

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Borst, G., Simon, G., Vidal, J., & Houdé, O. (2013). Inhibitory control and visuo-spatial reversibility in piaget’s seminal number conservation task: A high-density ERP study. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7(DEC). https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00920

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