The effect of numerical distance and stimulus probability on ERP components elicited by numerical incongruencies in mental addition

Dénes Szucs, Valéria Csépe

Research output: Article

53 Citations (Scopus)


In two experiments, we investigated the effect of the numerical distance of incongruous results from correct results and stimulus probability on the N270/N400 event-related brain potential components. In Experiment 1, 12 subjects saw two one-digit addends and a possible solution and signaled if the proposed result (falling in the range of 3-17) was true or false. Incorrect results could deviate by ±2 or by ±9 from the correct answer. The probability of correct results was 50%. Twelve subjects carried out a similar task in Experiment 2 without giving behavioral responses. The probability of incorrect results was 20%, 50% or 80% in different conditions. Both raw potentials and incorrect minus correct difference potentials were analyzed. A fronto-central N3 and a centro-parietal dN3 (incorrect-correct difference) were present for incongruous results in both experiments. The amplitude of the dN3 was not sensitive to numerical distance, but the latency of the dN3 was longer when numerical distance was larger. The overall amplitude of the N3 and of the dN3 was not sensitive to the probability manipulation. However, there was a parietally localized effect of probability on N3 amplitude. The dN3 in mental addition is most probably identical to the arithmetic N400 effect reported earlier in mental multiplication. The distance effect in latency may be a correlate of the discrimination of correct vs. incorrect results. A parietally localized probability effect (right greater than left) was found in the N3 amplitude. The dN3 was insensitive to the probability manipulation. In accord with its insensitivity to stimulus probability, the dN3 seems to be more related to the N400 than to the N2b. Posterior attentional processes sensitive to the allocation of attentional resources may have contributed to the topography of the dN3. The N3 is more related to the detection of expectation violation, while the P3 reflects the ease of identifying stimulus categories.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-300
Number of pages12
JournalCognitive Brain Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - febr. 1 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience

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