Maldonado Moscoso P., Greenlee M., Anobile G., Arrighi R., Burr D., Castaldi E.
Numerical estimation of arrays of objects is faster and more accurate when items can be clustered into groups, a phenomenon termed “groupitizing.” Grouping can facilitate segregation into subitizable “chunks,” each easily estimated, then summed. The current study investigates whether spatial grouping of arrays drives specific neural responses during numerical estimation, reflecting strategies such as exact calculation and fact retrieval. Fourteen adults were scanned with fMRI while estimating either the numerosity or shape of arrays of items, either randomly distributed or spatially grouped. Numerosity estimation of both classes of stimuli elicited common activation of a right lateralized frontoparietal network. Grouped stimuli additionally recruited regions in the left hemisphere and bilaterally in the angular gyrus. Multivariate pattern analysis showed that classifiers trained with the pattern of neural activations read out from parietal regions, but not from the primary visual areas, can decode different numerosities both within and across spatial arrangements. The behavioral numerical acuity correlated with the decoding performance of the parietal but not with occipital regions. Overall, this experiment suggests that the estimation of grouped stimuli relies on the approximate number system for numerosity estimation, but additionally recruits regions involved in calculation.