The existence of a spatial component in the representation of number magnitude has been repeatedly supported by the demonstration that the left hand responds faster to smaller numbers, whereas the right hand responds faster to larger numbers. These results support the view that the 'mental number line' is oriented such that smaller numbers are associated with the left side of space while larger numbers are associated with the right side. We investigated whether the link between spatial and number processing arises from a continuous or categorical mapping between space and number representations. The investigation was designed to study all aspects of the motor act, including both planning and execution phases. For this purpose we measured reaction times (RTs), movement times (MTs), spatial accuracy, and endpoint pressure of manual aiming, while subjects reached with the right hand towards the location of a visual digit target. Five different digits were equiprobably presented at five positions along the horizontal axis. A GO/NO-GO choice task paradigm was used to ensure that digit parity (i.e., odd/even) was being processed. Analyses of MT, accuracy, and pressure data showed no digit effects. However, two number-related effects were observed on RTs. First, shorter RTs were obtained for smaller digits independent of target location, despite the use of the right hand. Second, an interaction was observed between target location and number magnitude whereby relative RTs were shortest when there was a congruity between target magnitude and location. These results imply that motor preparation is contaminated both by the direct activation of number magnitude and by the congruity between the spatial location of a target number and its magnitude. We conclude that continuous mapping intervenes between mental number representation and physical space. © 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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