Visual Search for Conjunctions of Physical and Numerical Size Shows That They Are Processed Independently

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The size congruity effect refers to the interaction between numerical magnitude and physical digit size in a symbolic comparison task. Though this effect is well established in the typical 2-item scenario, the mechanisms at the root of the interference remain unclear. Two competing explanations have emerged in the literature: an early interaction model and a late interaction model. In the present study, we used visual conjunction search to test competing predictions from these 2 models. Participants searched for targets that were defined by a conjunction of physical and numerical size. Some distractors shared the target’s physical size, and the remaining distractors shared the target’s numerical size. We held the total number of search items fixed and manipulated the ratio of the 2 distractor set sizes. The results from 3 experiments converge on the conclusion that numerical magnitude is not a guiding feature for visual search, and that physical and numerical magnitude are processed independently, which supports a late interaction model of the size congruity effect.

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