Abstract

Numerous studies have identified the intraparietal sulcus (IPS) as an area critically involved in numerical processing. IPS neurons in macaques are tuned to a preferred numerosity, hence neurally coding numerosity in a number-selective way. Neuroimaging studies in humans have demonstrated number-selective processing in the anterior parts of the IPS. Nevertheless, the processes that convert visual input into a number-selective neural code remain unknown. Computational studies have suggested that a neural coding stage that is sensitive, but not selective to number, precedes number-selective coding when processing nonsymbolic quantities but not when processing symbolic quantities. In Experiment 1, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to localize number-sensitive areas in the human brain by searching for areas exhibiting increasing activation with increasing number, carefully controlling for nonnumerical parameters. An area in posterior superior parietal cortex was identified as a substrate for the intermediate number-sensitive steps required for processing nonsymbolic quantities. In Experiment 2, the interpretation of Experiment 1 was confirmed with a connectivity analysis showing that a shared number-selective representation in IPS is reached through different pathways for symbolic versus nonsymbolic quantities. The preferred pathway for processing nonsymbolic quantities included the number-sensitive area in superior parietal cortex, whereas the pathway for processing symbolic quantities did not.

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