The language of arithmetic across the hemispheres: An event-related potential investigation

Danielle S. Dickson, Kara D. Federmeier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Arithmetic expressions, like verbal sentences, incrementally lead readers to anticipate potential appropriate completions. Existing work in the language domain has helped us understand how the two hemispheres differently participate in and contribute to the cognitive process of sentence reading, but comparatively little work has been done with mathematical equation processing. In this study, we address this gap by examining the ERP response to provided answers to simple multiplication problems, which varied both in levels of correctness (given an equation context) and in visual field of presentation (joint attention in central presentation, or biased processing to the left or right hemisphere through contralateral visual field presentation). When answers were presented to any of the visual fields (hemispheres), there was an effect of correctness prior to the traditional N400 timewindow, which we interpret as a P300 in response to a detected target item (the correct answer). In addition to this response, equation answers also elicited a late positive complex (LPC) for incorrect answers. Notably, this LPC effect was most prominent in the left visual field (right hemisphere), and it was also sensitive to the confusability of the wrong answer – incorrect answers that were closely related to the correct answer elicited a smaller LPC. This suggests a special, prolonged role for the right hemisphere during answer evaluation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)46-56
Number of pages11
JournalBrain Research
StatePublished - May 1 2017


  • Arithmetic
  • Cerebral hemispheres
  • Late positivity
  • Numerical cognition
  • P300

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology

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