A Dissociation between Symbolic Number Knowledge and Analogue Magnitude Information

Document Type



Psychology (CMC)

Publication Date



Semantic understanding of numbers and related concepts can be dissociated from rote knowledge of arithmetic facts. However, distinctions among different kinds of semantic representations related to numbers have not been fully explored. Working with numbers and arithmetic requires representing semantic information that is both analogue (e.g., the approximate magnitude of a number) and symbolic (e.g., what ÷ means). In this article, the authors describe a patient (MC) who exhibits a dissociation between tasks that require symbolic number knowledge (e.g., knowledge of arithmetic symbols including numbers, knowledge of concepts related to numbers such as rounding) and tasks that require an analogue magnitude representation (e.g., comparing size or frequency). MC is impaired on a variety of tasks that require symbolic number knowledge, but her ability to represent and process analogue magnitude information is intact. Her deficit in symbolic number knowledge extends to a variety of concepts related to numbers (e.g., decimal points, Roman numerals, what a quartet is) but not to any other semantic categories that we have tested. These findings suggest that symbolic number knowledge is a functionally independent component of the number processing system, that it is category specific, and that it is anatomically and functionally distinct from magnitude representations.

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© 2001 Elsevier Science