Spatial-numerical association of response codes

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The spatial-numerical association of response codes (SNARC) is an example of the spatial organisation of magnitude information. Put simply, when presented with smaller numbers, people tend to respond faster with the left hand; when presented with larger numbers, people respond faster with the right. The SNARC effect is this automatic association that occurs between the location of the response hand and the semantic magnitude of a modality-independent number.[1]

Even for tasks in which magnitude is irrelevant, like parity judgement or phoneme detection, larger numbers are faster responded to with the right response key while smaller numbers are faster responded to with the left. The explanation given by Dehaene and colleagues is that the magnitude of a number on an oriented mental number line is automatically activated. The mental number line is assumed to be oriented from left to right; thus larger numbers are spatially located on the right mentally.[2]


The SNARC has been observed primarily in two scenarios: attentional and oculomotor. The first of these involves people being faster to detect left probes after smaller numbers are shown and right probes after large numbers,[3] whereas the oculomotor effects are seen when participants look at greater speeds towards the left after detecting small numbers and to the right after detecting large ones.[4]

Newer research shows a motor bias to also be associated with the SNARC effect. In an experiment conducted into random number generation, participants tended to generate numbers of a larger magnitude when turning their heads to the right, and numbers of a smaller magnitude when turning their heads to the left.[5] This has been replicated using hand sizes: smaller distances between the index finger and thumb when generating a random number evoked smaller numbers, and larger spaces evoked larger numbers.[6]


  1. ^ Dehaene, Bossini & Giraux, 1993
  2. ^ Fias, Brysbaert, Geypens & D'Ydewalle, 1996
  3. ^ Fischer, M. (2003). Spatial representations in number processing--evidence from a pointing task. Visual cognition, 10(4), 493-508.
  4. ^ Fisher et al., 2004
  5. ^ Loetscher et al 2008
  6. ^ Andres et al., 2004