A dissociation between symbolic number knowledge and analogue magnitude information

Thad A. Polk, Catherine L. Reed, Janice M. Keenan, Penelope Hogarth, C. Alan Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)545-563
Number of pages19
JournalBrain and Cognition
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Acalculia
  • Brain damage
  • Conceptual number knowledge
  • Dissociation
  • Neuropsychology
  • Number processing
  • Semantic memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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