Verbal interference suppresses exact numerical representation

TitleVerbal interference suppresses exact numerical representation
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsFrank, M. C., Fedorenko E., Lai P., Saxe R., & Gibson E.
JournalCognitive Psychology
Pagination74 - 92
Date Published02/2012

Language for number is an important case study of the relationship between language and cognition because the mechanisms of nonverbal numerical cognition are well-understood. When the Pirahã (an Amazonian hunter-gatherer tribe who have no exact number words) are tested in non-verbal numerical tasks, they are able to perform one-to-one matching tasks but make errors in more difficult tasks. Their pattern of errors suggests that they are using analog magnitude estimation, an evolutionarily- and developmentally-conserved mechanism for estimating quantities. Here we show that English-speaking participants rely on the same mechanisms when verbal number representations are unavailable due to verbal interference. Followup experiments demonstrate that the effects of verbal interference are primarily manifest during encoding of quantity information, and—using a new procedure for matching difficulty of interference tasks for individual participants—that the effects are restricted to verbal interference. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that number words are used online to encode, store, and manipulate numerical information. This linguistic strategy complements, rather than altering or replacing, non-verbal representations.

Short TitleCognitive Psychology