6 May 2024

Number line representation in your mind

You might find this interesting. Close your eyes and try to count the numbers 1,2,3…. Do not count it verbally but visually eye thru the numbers from 1 onwards to 100.

Is that number line a straight line? Does it go up and down? Does it go left to right? Does it have colors?

Interestingly, we all have very different mental representation of the number line and we are still not sure how to explain it. Some part of it is definitely the way we read stuff. For example, for me and for most Westerners, the number line goes left to right. When asked, all the 20 students from Iran (studying in a US college) said their mental line went from right to left.

About 5% of the population even associate different colors in different parts of the line. Do you?

My line looks like the one I have drawn here. It goes left to right for the most part, steadily rises till 20 and then takes a sharp bend. 20-40 goes right to left. For most people, these breaks come at a multiple of 10 !!

For some unknown reason, I have a distinct breakpoint between 69 and 70. My mental eyes do not smoothly go from one number to the next – it makes a discrete jump to a point left and higher for 70.

After 100, the pattern repeats. On the negative side, I have no pattern. In fact, this can be explained by the fact that we learnt negatives much later in life. Negative numbers are so unnatural for us to think about (in real life negative number of objects are difficult to comprehend) that the brain consumes a lot of power to hold steady with negative numbers instead of fluently using memory.

Interestingly, when I look at the number line and traverse from left to right, somewhere around 7 is where I feel I am looking straight. 1-6 is on my left. 8 onwards is on my right.

How do you visualize your number line?

Posted May 6, 2024 by Rajib Roy in category "Books

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