Abstract

The role of the intraparietal sulcus (IPS) in the representation of numerical magnitude is well established. Recently, there has also been speculation that the IPS is involved in the representation of ordinal information as well. These claims, however, overlook the fact that all neuroimaging paradigms in which participants make judgments about either magnitude and/or order result in a behavioral distance effect (i.e., the comparison is easier when the stimuli span a greater distance). This leaves open two possibilities: It may be that activation of the IPS is due to the mechanism that yields distance effects, or it may be that the IPS is involved in the representation of information about both magnitude and order. The current study used fMRI to compare a magnitude task in which participants show distance effects to an order-judgment task that yields reverse-distance effects. The results reveal activation of the IPS for both the magnitude and order tasks that is based on participants' strategies as opposed to the actual distance between the numbers. This leads to the conclusion that the IPS represents a mental number line, and that accessing this line can lead to distance effects when participants compare magnitudes and to reverse-distance effects when participants check for order.

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