Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting 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.

Perceiving numbers causes spatial shifts of attention


Number symbols are part of our everyday visual world. Here we show that merely looking at numbers causes a shift in covert attention to the left or right side, depending upon the number's magnitude. This observation implies obligatory activation of number meaning and signals a tight coupling of internal and external representations of space.

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

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Task sequence and reaction time data.


  1. Yantis, S. & Hillstrom, A.P. J. Exp. Psychol. Hum. Percept. Perform. 20, 95–107 (1994).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Folk, C.L., Remington, W. & Johnston, J.C. J. Exp. Psychol. Hum. Percept. Perform. 18, 1030–1044 (1992).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Hommel, B., Pratt, J., Colzano, L. & Godijn, R. Psychol. Sci. 12, 360–365 (2001).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Fias, W., Brysbaert, M., Geypens, F. & d'Ydewalle, G. Math. Cognit. 2, 95–110 (1996).

    Article  Google Scholar 

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Fischer, M.H. Neurology 57, 822–826 (2001).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Dehaene, S. in The New Cognitive Neurosciences (ed. Gazzaniga, M.) 987–998 (MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2000).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Pratt, J., Spalek, T.M. & Bradshaw, F. J. Exp. Psychol. Hum. Percept. Perform. 25, 730–746 (1999).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Zorzi, M., Priftis, K. & Umilta, C. Nature 417, 138–139, (2002).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Dehaene, S. Psychol. Sci. 12, 244–246 (2001).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Gevers, W., Reynvoet, B. & Fias, W. Cognition 87, 87–95 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


M.H.F. is supported by the British Academy (LRG 31696). A.D.C. and M.D.D. are supported by Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council graduate fellowships. J.P. is supported by NSERC operating and equipment grants.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Martin H Fischer.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Fischer, M., Castel, A., Dodd, M. et al. Perceiving numbers causes spatial shifts of attention. Nat Neurosci 6, 555–556 (2003).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


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