Overlapping and distinct brain regions involved in estimating the spatial position of numerical and non-numerical magnitudes: an fMRI study.

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Abstract or Description

How are numerical and non-numerical magnitudes processed in the brain? Brain imaging research, primarily using comparison paradigms (i.e. judging which of two magnitudes is larger), has provided strong evidence demonstrating that the intraparietal sulcus (IPS) is a key region for processing both numerical (e.g. Arabic numerals, arrays of dots) and non-numerical magnitudes (e.g. height, brightness). These studies have suggested that there is both activation overlap and segregation in the brain regions involved in processing different dimensions of magnitude. In the present functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) study, we extended this line of investigation by probing the brain mechanisms underlying the mapping of numerical (Arabic numerals) and non-numerical magnitudes (brightness levels) onto a number line. Consistent with previous studies the present results revealed that number and brightness estimation was associated with overlapping activation within right lateralized areas of the posterior IPS. In addition, the contrast between number and brightness estimation revealed that bilateral anterior regions of the IPS are specifically involved in the process of estimating the position of symbolic numbers onto a number line. Furthermore, we found a significant influence of landmark reference points (0, 50 and 100) on brain activation in the right IPS for number estimation only. No regions were found to be specifically associated with brightness estimation. The results of this study reveal that the estimation of both numerical and non-numerical magnitude are associated with the engagement of a right lateralized magnitude system, but that symbolic number estimation is associated with additional engagement of bilateral regions of the anterior IPS.




Published In

Neuropsychologia, 51, 5, 979-989.