Psychological Research

, Volume 81, Issue 1, pp 219–230 | Cite as

Conflict resolution in two-digit number processing: evidence of an inhibitory mechanism

Original Article


We investigated the mechanism involved in conflict resolution when individuals processed two-digit numbers. Participants performed a comparison task in blocks of two trials. In the first trial, between-decade two-digit numbers were used in a compatible condition where the decade and the unit of one number were larger than those of the other number (i.e., 21–73) and an incompatible condition where the decade of one number was larger but the unit was smaller than those of the other number (i.e., 61–53). In the second trial, within-decade two-digit numbers were presented in a related condition where the numbers contained the units presented previously (i.e., 41–43) and an unrelated condition with units that did not appear before (i.e., 48–49). In the first trial, participants responded more slowly in incompatible trials relative to compatible trials. In the second trial, participants were slower in the related condition relative to unrelated trials only after incompatible trials. These results suggest that participants experienced conflict in the incompatible condition of first trial and that they inhibited irrelevant units to resolve conflict.


  1. Anderson, M. C. (2003). Rethinking interference theory: executive control and the mechanisms of forgetting. Journal of Memory and Language, 49, 415–445. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2003.08.006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson, M., Bjork, R., & Bjork, E. (1994). Remembering can cause forgetting: retrieval dynamics in long-term memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology Learning Memory, and Cognition, 20, 1063–1087. doi:10.1037/0278-7393.20.5.1063.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arbuthnott, K., & Campbell, J. I. D. (2000). Cognitive inhibition in selection and sequential retrieval. Memory and Cognition, 28, 331–340. doi:10.3758/BF03198548.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Arbuthnott, K., & Campbell, J. I. D. (2003). The locus of self-inhibition in sequential retrieval. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 15, 177–194. doi:10.1080/09541440244000067.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bialystok, E., & Craik, F. I. M. (2010). Cognitive and linguistic processing in the bilingual mind. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19, 19–23. doi:10.1177/0963721409358571.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Botvinick, M. M., Braver, T. S., Barch, D. M., Carter, S. C., & Cohen, J. D. (2001). Conflict monitoring and cognitive control. Psychological Review, 108(3), 624–652. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.108.3.624.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Botvinick, M. M., Cohen, J. D., & Cameron, S. C. (2004). Conflict monitoring and anterior cingulate cortex: an update. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8, 539–546. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2004.10.003.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Campbell, J. I. D., & Dowd, R. (2012). Inter-operation transfer in Chinese-English bilinguals` arithmetic. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 19, 948–954. doi:10.3758/s13423-012-0277-z.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Campbell, J. I. D., & Thompson, V. (2012). Retrieval-induced forgetting of arithmetic facts. Journal of Experimental Psychology Learning Memory, and Cognition, 38, 118–129. doi:10.1037/a0025056.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Cohen Kadosh, R., Gevers, W., & Notebaert, W. (2011). Sequential analysis of the numerical Stroop effect reveals response suppression. Journal of Experimental Psychology Learning Memory and Cognition, 37, 1243–1249. doi:10.1037/a0023550.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Ganor-Stern, D., Tzelgov, J., & Ellenbogen, R. (2007). Automaticity and two-digit numbers. Journal of Experimental Psychology Human Perception and Performance, 33, 483–496. doi:10.1037/0096-1523.33.2.483.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Green, D. W. (1986). Control, activation and resource. Brain and Language, 27, 210–223. doi:10.1016/0093-934X(86)90016-7.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Green, D., & Abutalebi, J. (2013). Language control in bilinguals: the adaptive control hypothesis. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 25, 515–530. doi:10.1080/20445911.2013.796377.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  14. Hasher, L., & Zacks, R. T. (1988). Working memory, comprehension, and aging: a review and a new view. In G. H. Bower (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation (pp. 193–225). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  15. Huber, S., Mann, A., Nuerk, H. C., & Moeller, K. (2014). Cognitive control in number magnitude processing—evidence from eye-tracking. Psychological Research, 78, 539–548. doi:10.1007/s00426-013-0504-x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Huber, S., Moeller, K., Nuerk, H.-C., Macizo, P., Herrera, A., & Willmes, K. (2013). Cognitive control in number processing—a computational model. In R. West & T. Stewart (Eds.), Proceedings of the 12th international conference on cognitive modeling. Ottawa: Carleton University.
  17. Jackson, N., & Coney, J. (2007). Simple arithmetic processing: surface form effects in a priming task. Acta Psychologica, 125, 1–19. doi:10.1016/j.actpsy.2006.05.003.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Jacoby, L. L., Lindsay, D. S., & Hessels, S. (2003). Item-specific control of automatic processes: stroop process dissociations. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 10, 638–644. doi:10.3758/BF03196526.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Kunda, Z., & Spencer, S. J. (2003). When do stereotypes come to mind and when do they color judgment? A goal-based theoretical framework for stereotype activation and application. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 522–544. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.129.4.522.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Macizo, P., Bajo, T., & Martín, M. (2010). Inhibitory processes in bilingual language comprehension: evidence from Spanish-English interlexical homographs. Journal of Memory and Language, 63, 232–244. doi:10.1016/j.jml.2010.04.002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Macizo, P., & Herrera, A. (2010). Two-digit number comparison: decade-unit and unit-decade produce the same compatibility effect with number words. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 64, 17–24. doi:10.1037/a0015803.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Macizo, P., & Herrera, A. (2011a). Cognitive control in number processing: evidence from the unit-decade compatibility effect. Acta Psychologica, 136, 112–118. doi:10.1016/j.actpsy.2010.10.008.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Macizo, P., & Herrera, A. (2011b). Working memory and two-digit number processing. Memory, 19, 941–955. doi:10.1080/09658211.2011.614621.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Macizo, P., & Herrera, A. (2013). The processing of Arabic numbers is under cognitive control. Psychological Research, 77, 651–658. doi:10.1007/s00426-012-0456-6.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Macizo, P., Herrera, A., Román, P., & Martín, M. C. (2011). The processing of two-digit numbers in bilinguals. British Journal of Psychology, 102, 464–477. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8295.2010.02005.x.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Macizo, P., Herrera, A., Román, P., & Martín, M. C. (2012). Proficiency in a second language influences the processing of number words. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 23, 915–921. doi:10.1080/20445911.2011.586626.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. MacLeod, C. M. (1991). Half a century of research on the Stroop effect: an integrative review. Psychological Bulletin, 109, 163–203. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.109.2.163.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. MacLeod, C. M., Dodd, M. D., Sheard, E. D., Wilson, D. E., & Bibi, U. (2003). In opposition to inhibition. In B. H. Ross (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation (Vol. 43, pp. 163–214). San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  29. May, C. P., Kane, M. J., & Hasher, L. (1995). Determinants of negative priming. Psychological Bulleting, 118, 35–54. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.118.1.35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Meert, G., Grégoire, J., & Noël, M. P. (2010). Comparing the magnitude of two fractions with common components: which representations are used by 10- and 12-year-old children. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 107, 244–259. doi:10.1016/j.jecp.2010.04.008.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Moeller, K., Fischer, M. H., Nuerk, H. C., & Willmes, K. (2009a). Sequential or parallel decomposed processing of two-digit numbers? Evidence from eye-tracking. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 62, 323–334. doi:10.1080/17470210801946740.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Moeller, K., Klein, E., & Nuerk, H.-C. (2013). Influences of cognitive control in numerical cognition—adaptation by binding for implicit learning. Topics in Cognitive Science, 5, 335–353. doi:10.1111/tops.12015.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Moeller, K., Nuerk, H. C., & Willmes, K. (2009b). Internal number magnitude representation is not holistic, either. European Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 21, 672–685. doi:10.1007/s10339-012-0535-z.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Moyer, R. S., & Landauer, T. K. (1967). Time required for judgements of numerical inequality. Nature, 215, 1519–1520. doi:10.1038/2151519a0.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Neill, W. T. (1997). Episodic retrieval in negative priming and repetition priming. Journal of Experimental Psychology Learning Memory and Cognition, 23, 1291–1305. doi:10.1037/0278-7393.23.6.1291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Neill, W. T., & Valdes, L. A. (1992). Persistence of negative priming: steady-state or decay? Journal of Experimental Psychology Learning Memory and Cognition, 18, 565–576. doi:10.1037/0278-7393.18.3.565.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Notebaert, W., & Verguts, T. (2008). Cognitive control acts locally. Cognition, 106, 1071–1080. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2007.04.011.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Nuerk, H. C., Weger, U., & Willmes, K. (2001). Decade breaks in the mental number line? Putting the tens and units back in different bins. Cognition, 82, B25–B33. doi:10.1016/S0010-0277(01)00142-1.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Nuerk, H. C., Weger, U., & Willmes, K. (2004). On the perceptual generality of the unit-decade compatibility effect. Experimental Psychology, 51, 72–79. doi:10.1027/1618-3169.51.1.72.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. Nuerk, H. C., Weger, U., & Willmes, K. (2005). Language effects in magnitude comparison: small but not irrelevant. Brain and Language, 92, 262–277. doi:10.1016/j.bandl.2004.06.107.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  41. Nuerk, H. C., & Willmes, K. (2005). On the magnitude representations of two-digit numbers. Psychological Science, 47, 52–72.Google Scholar
  42. Rafal, R., & Henik, A. (1994). The neurology of inhibition: integrating controlled and automatic processes. In D. Dagenbach & T. H. Carr (Eds.), Inhibitory processes in attention, memory, and language (pp. 1–51). San Diego: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  43. Schneider, W., Eschman, A., & Zuccolotto, A. (2002). E-Prime user’s guide (Version 1.1). Pittsburg: Psychology Software Tools.Google Scholar
  44. Stroop, J. R. (1935). Studies of interference in serial verbal reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 18, 643–662. doi:10.1037/h0054651.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Tipper, S. P. (2001). Does negative priming reflect inhibitory mechanisms? A review and integration of conflicting views. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 54(A), 321–343. doi:10.1080/713755969.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Tipper, S. P., & Driver, J. (1988). Negative priming between pictures and words in a selective attention task: evidence for semantic processing of ignored stimuli. Memory and Cognition, 16, 64–70. doi:10.3758/BF03197746.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. Tzelgov, J., Henik, A., & Berger, J. (1992). Controlling Stroop effects by manipulating expectations for color words. Memory and Cognition, 20, 727–735. doi:10.3758/BF03202722.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  48. Verguts, T., & Notebaert, W. (2008). Hebbian learning of cognitive control: dealing with specific and nonspecific adaptation. Psychological Review, 115, 518–525. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.115.2.51.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  49. Verguts, T., & Notebaert, W. (2009). Adaptation by binding: a learning account of cognitive control. Trends in Cognitive Science, 13, 252–257. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2009.02.007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Verguts, T., Notebaert, W., Kunde, W., & Wühr, P. (2011). Post-conflict slowing: cognitive adaptation after conflict processing. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 18, 76–82. doi:10.3758/s13423-010-0016-2.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Wood, J., Mathews, A., & Dalgleish, T. (2001). Anxiety and cognitive inhibition. Emotion, 1, 166–181. doi:10.1037/1528-3542.1.2.166.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Departamento de Psicología Experimental, Facultad de PsicologíaUniversidad de GranadaGranadaSpain
  2. 2.Mind, Brain and Behavior Research Center (CIMCYC)Universidad de GranadaGranadaSpain

Personalised recommendations