The numerical distance effect is task dependent

Liat Goldfarb, Avishai Henik, Orly Rubinsten, Yafit Bloch-David, Limor Gertner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Number comparison tasks produce a distance effect e. g., Moyer & Landauer (Nature 215: 1519-1520, 1967). It has been suggested that this effect supports the existence of semantic mental representations of numbers. In a matching task, a distance effect also appears, which suggests that the effect has an automatic semantic component. Recently, Cohen (Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 16: 332-336, 2009) suggested that in both automatic and intentional tasks, the distance effect might reflect not a semantic number representation, but a physical similarity between digits. The present article (1) compares the distance effect in the automatic matching task with that in the intentional number comparison task and suggests that, in the latter, the distance effect does include an additional semantic component; and (2) indicates that the distance effect in the standard automatic matching task is questionable and that its appearance in previous matching tasks was based on the specific analysis and design that were applied.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1508-1517
Number of pages10
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was conducted as part of the research for the Center for the Study of the Neurocognitive Basis of Numerical Cognition, supported by the Israel Science Foundation (Grant 1664/08) in the framework of their Centers of Excellence.


  • Automatic processing, attention
  • Number processing, automaticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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