Heed the signs: Operation signs have spatial associations

Michal Pinhas, Samuel Shaki, Martin H. Fischer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mental arithmetic shows systematic spatial biases. The association between numbers and space is well documented, but it is unknown whether arithmetic operation signs also have spatial associations and whether or not they contribute to spatial biases found in arithmetic. Adult participants classified plus and minus signs with left and right button presses under two counterbalanced response rules. Results from two experiments showed that spatially congruent responses (i.e., right-side responses for the plus sign and left-side responses for the minus sign) were responded to faster than spatially incongruent ones (i.e., left-side responses for the plus sign and right-side responses for the minus sign). We also report correlations between this novel operation sign spatial association (OSSA) effect and other spatial biases in number processing. In a control experiment with no explicit processing requirements for the operation signs there were no sign-related spatial biases. Overall, the results suggest that (a) arithmetic operation signs can evoke spatial associations (OSSA), (b) experience with arithmetic operations probably underlies the OSSA, and (c) the OSSA only partially contributes to spatial biases in arithmetic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1527-1540
Number of pages14
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2014


  • Mental arithmetic
  • Mental number line
  • Operational momentum
  • Pointing
  • Spatial-numerical association of response codes effect

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Physiology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Physiology (medical)


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