Contribution of visuospatial attention, short-term memory and executive functions to performance in number interval bisection

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Number interval bisection consists of estimating the mid-number within a pair (1–9=>5). Healthy adults and right-brain damage patients can show biased performance in this task, underestimating and overestimating the mid-number, respectively. The role of visuospatial attention during this task, and its interplay with other cognitive abilities (e.g., working memory) is still object of debate. In this study we explored the relation between visuospatial attention and individual differences in working memory and executive functions during number interval bisection. To manipulate the deployment of visuospatial attention, healthy participants tracked a dot moving to the left or moving to the right while bisecting numerical intervals. We also collected information concerning verbal and visuospatial short-term memory span, and concerning verbal and visuospatial fluency scores. Beside replicating what is typically observed in this task (e.g., underestimation bias), a correlation was observed between verbal short-term memory and bisection bias, and an interesting relation between performance in the number interval bisection, verbal short-term memory, and visuospatial attention. Specifically, performance of those participants with low verbal span was affected by the direction of the moving dot, underestimating at a larger extent when the dot moved leftward than rightward. Finally, it was also observed that participants’ verbal fluency ability contributed in the generation of biases in the numerical task. The finding of the involvement of abilities belonging to the verbal domain contributes to unveil the multi-componential nature of number interval bisection. Considering the debate on the nature of number interval bisection and its use in the clinical assessment of deficits following brain damage, this finding may be interesting also from a clinical perspective.

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