The representation of negative numbers: Exploring the effects of mode of processing and notation

Joseph Tzelgov, Dana Ganor-Stern, Keren Maymon-Schreiber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


The representation of negative numbers was explored during intentional processing (i.e., when participants performed a numerical comparison task) and during automatic processing (i.e., when participants performed a physical comparison task). Performance in both cases suggested that negative numbers were not represented as a whole but rather their polarity and numerical magnitudes were represented separately. To explore whether this was due to the fact that polarity and magnitude are marked by two spatially separated symbols, participants were trained to mark polarity by colour. In this case there was still evidence for a separate representation of polarity and magnitude. However, when a different set of stimuli was used to refer to positive and negative numbers, and polarity was not marked separately, participants were able to represent polarity and magnitude together when numerical processing was performed intentionally but not when it was conducted automatically. These results suggest that notation is only partly responsible for the components representation of negative numbers and that the concept of negative numbers can be grasped only through that of positive numbers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)605-624
Number of pages20
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 8 Jun 2009


  • Automaticity
  • Negative numbers
  • Notation
  • Numerical processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Physiology (medical)


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