Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Brain damage

Neglect disrupts the mental number line

Abstract

A popular metaphor for the representation of numbers in the brain is the 'mental number line', in which numbers are represented in a continuous, quantity-based analogical format1,2. Here we show that patients with hemispatial neglect3 misplace the midpoint of a numerical interval when asked to bisect it (for example, stating that five is halfway between two and six), with an error pattern that closely resembles the bisection of physical lines4. This new form of representational neglect constitutes strong evidence that the mental number line is more than simply a metaphor, and that its spatial nature renders it functionally isomorphic to physical lines.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Displacement error with respect to the midpoint (0) of a numerical interval as a function of interval size.

References

  1. Restle, F. J. Exp. Psychol. 83, 274–278 (1970).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Dehaene, S., Dupoux, E. & Mehler, J. J. Exp. Psychol. Hum. Percept. Perform. 16, 626–641 (1990).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Bisiach, E. & Vallar, G. in Handbook of Neuropsychology (eds Boller, F. & Grafman, G.) 459–502 (Elsevier, Amsterdam, 2000).

  4. Marshall, J. & Halligan, P. Cortex 25, 503–515 (1989).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Seron, X., Pesenti, M., Noël, M. P., Deloche, G. & Cornet, J. A. Cognition 44, 159–196 (1992).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Dehaene, S., Bossini, S. & Giraux, P. J. Exp. Psychol. Gen. 122, 371–396 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Moyer, R. & Landauer, T. Nature 215, 1519–1520 (1967).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Brannon, E. & Terrace, H. Science 282, 746–749 (1998).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Bächtold, D., Baumüller, M. & Brugger, P. Neuropsychologia 36, 731–735 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Dehaene, S., Dehaene-Lambertz, G. & Cohen, L. Trends Neurosci. 21, 355–361 (1998).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Caramazza, A. & Hillis, A. E. Nature 346, 267–269 (1990).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Dehaene, S. & Cohen, L. Cortex 33, 219–250 (1997).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Hadamard, J. The Mathematician's Mind: The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field (Princeton Univ. Press, New Jersey, 1996).

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Marco Zorzi.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Zorzi, M., Priftis, K. & Umiltà, C. Neglect disrupts the mental number line. Nature 417, 138–139 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1038/417138a

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/417138a

This article is cited by

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing