Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Daniel Ansari


Humans possess the remarkable ability to process numerical information using numerical symbols such as Arabic digits. A growing body of neuroimaging work has provided new insights into the neural correlates associated with symbolic numerical magnitude processing. However, little is known about the cortical specialization underlying the representation of symbolic numerical magnitude in adults and children. To constrain our current knowledge, I conducted a series of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) studies that aimed to better understand the functional specialization of symbolic numerical magnitudes representation in the human brain.

Using a number line estimation task, the first study contrasted the brain activation associated with processing symbolic numerical magnitude against the brain activation associated with non-numerical magnitude (brightness) processing. Results demonstrated a right lateralized parietal network that was commonly engaged when magnitude dimensions were processed. However, the left intraparietal sulcus (IPS) was additionally activated when symbolic numerical magnitudes were estimated, suggesting that number is a special category amongst magnitude dimensions and that the left hemisphere plays a critical role in representing number.

The second study tested a child friendly version of an fMRI-adaptation paradigm in adults. For this participant’s brain response was habituated to a numerical value (i.e., 6) and signal recovery in response to the presentation of numerical deviants was investigated. Across two different brain normalization procedures results showed a replication of previous findings demonstrating that the brain response of the IPS is modulated by the semantic meaning of numbers in the absence of overt response selection.

The last study aimed to unravel developmental changes in the cortical representation of symbolic numerical magnitudes in children. Using the paradigm tested in chapter 2, results demonstrated an increase in the signal recovery with age in the left IPS as well as an age-independent signal recovery in the right IPS. This finding indicates that the left IPS becomes increasingly specialized for the representation of symbolic numerical magnitudes over developmental time, while the right IPS may play a different and earlier role in symbolic numerical magnitude representation.

Findings of these studies are discussed in relation to our current knowledge about symbolic numerical magnitude representation.