Journal of Vision
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Symbolic numbers (e.g., "2") acquire their meaning by becoming linked to the core nonsymbolic quantities they represent (e.g., two items). However, the extent to which symbolic and nonsymbolic information converges onto the same internal core representations of quantity remains a point of considerable debate. As nearly all previous work on this topic has employed perceptual tasks requiring the conscious reporting of numerical magnitudes, here we question the extent to which numerical processing via the visual-motor system might shed further light on the fundamental basis of how different number formats are encoded.We show, using a rapid reaching task and a detailed analysis of initial arm trajectories, that there are key differences in how the quantity information extracted from symbolic Arabic numerals and nonsymbolic collections of discrete items are used to guide action planning. In particular, we found that the magnitude derived from discrete dots resulted in movements being biased by an amount directly proportional to the actual quantities presented whereasthe magnitude derived from numerals resulted in movements being biased only by the relative (e.g., larger than) quantities presented. In addition, we found that initial motor plans were more sensitive to changes in numerical quantity within small (1-3) than large (5-15) number ranges, irrespective of their format (dots or numerals). In light of previous work, our visual-motor results clearly show that the processing of numerical quantity information is both format and magnitude dependent. © 2014 ARVO.