Distance in motion: Response trajectories reveal the dynamics of number comparison

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Abstract

Cognitive and neuroscientific evidence has challenged the widespread view that perception, cognition and action constitute independent, discrete stages. For example, in continuous response trajectories toward a target response location, evidence suggests that a decision on which target to reach for (i.e., the cognition stage) is not reached before the movement starts (i.e., the action stage). As a result, instead of a straight trajectory to the correct target response, movement trajectories may curve toward competing responses or away from inhibited responses. In the present study, we examined response trajectories during a number comparison task. Participants had to decide whether a target number was smaller or larger than 5. They had to respond by moving to a left or a right response location. Replicating previous results, response trajectories were more curved toward the incorrect response location when distance to 5 was small (e.g., target number 4) than when distance to 5 was large (e.g., target number 1). Importantly, we manipulated the response mapping, which allowed us to demonstrate that this response trajectory effect results from the relative amount of evidence for the available responses across time. In this way, the present study stresses the tight coupling of number representations (i.e., cognition) and response related processes (i.e., action) and shows that these stages are not separable in time.

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Santens, S., Goossens, S., & Verguts, T. (2011). Distance in motion: Response trajectories reveal the dynamics of number comparison. PLoS ONE, 6(9). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0025429

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