Qualitatively different coding of symbolic and nonsymbolic numbers in the human brain
Human brain mapping
URL with Digital Object Identifier
Are symbolic and nonsymbolic numbers coded differently in the brain? Neuronal data indicate that overlap in numerical tuning curves is a hallmark of the approximate, analogue nature of nonsymbolic number representation. Consequently, patterns of fMRI activity should be more correlated when the representational overlap between two numbers is relatively high. In bilateral intraparietal sulci (IPS), for nonsymbolic numbers, the pattern of voxelwise correlations between pairs of numbers mirrored the amount of overlap in their tuning curves under the assumption of approximate, analogue coding. In contrast, symbolic numbers showed a flat field of modest correlations more consistent with discrete, categorical representation (no systematic overlap between numbers). Directly correlating activity patterns for a given number across formats (e.g., the numeral "6" with six dots) showed no evidence of shared symbolic and nonsymbolic number-specific representations. Overall (univariate) activity in bilateral IPS was well fit by the log of the number being processed for both nonsymbolic and symbolic numbers. IPS activity is thus sensitive to numerosity regardless of format; however, the nature in which symbolic and nonsymbolic numbers are encoded is fundamentally different.