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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The mental representation of integers: Further evidence for the negative number line as a reflection of the natural number line

  • Author(s): Vest, Nicholas;
  • Alibali, Martha W
  • et al.

Humans are able to make sense of extraordinarily abstract concepts in mathematics (e.g., negative numbers). What is the underlying representation of these concepts? Integers extend natural numbers by including zero and negative numbers. To study the mental representation of integers, we employed a number comparison task in an online context. We replicated the previously-reported distance effect, in that far comparisons were faster than near comparisons. Namely, we observed reliable distance effects for positive and negative comparisons, and critically, an inverse distance effect for mixed comparisons. We conclude that the mental representation of integers may align with a hypothesis proposing the mental number line for negative numbers mirrors the natural number line. Moreover, we conclude that web-based data collection is a promising tool for future numerical cognition research.

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