Effects of attentional shifts along the vertical axis on number processing: An eye-tracking study with optokinetic stimulation


Previous studies suggest that associations between numbers and space are mediated by shifts of visuospatial attention along the horizontal axis. In this study, we investigated the effect of vertical shifts of overt attention, induced by optokinetic stimulation (OKS) and monitored through eye-tracking, in two tasks requiring explicit (number comparison) or implicit (parity judgment) processing of number magnitude. Participants were exposed to black-and-white stripes (OKS) that moved vertically (upward or downward) or remained static (control condition). During the OKS, participants were asked to verbally classify auditory one-digit numbers as larger/smaller than 5 (comparison task; Exp. 1) or as odd/even (parity task; Exp. 2). OKS modulated response times in both experiments. In Exp.1, upward attentional displacement decreased the Magnitude effect (slower responses for large numbers) and increased the Distance effect (slower responses for numbers close to the reference). In Exp.2, we observed a complex interaction between parity, magnitude, and OKS, indicating that downward attentional displacement slowed down responses for large odd numbers. Moreover, eye tracking analyses revealed an influence of number processing on eye movements both in Exp. 1, with eye gaze shifting downwards during the processing of small numbers as compared to large ones; and in Exp. 2, with leftward shifts after large even numbers (6,8) and rightward shifts after large odd numbers (7,9). These results provide evidence of bidirectional links between number and space and extend them to the vertical dimension. Moreover, they document the influence of visuo-spatial attention on processing of numerical magnitude, numerical distance, and parity. Together, our findings are in line with grounded and embodied accounts of numerical cognition.

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