Attentional amplification of neural codes for number independent of other quantities
Castaldi E., Piazza M., Dehaene S., Vignaud A., Eger E.
Humans and other animals base important decisions on estimates of number, and intraparietal cortex is thought to provide a crucial substrate of this ability. However, it remains debated whether an independent neuronal processing mechanism underlies this ‘number sense’, or whether number is instead judged indirectly on the basis of other quantitative features. We performed high-resolution 7 Tesla fMRI while adult human volunteers attended either to the numerosity or an orthogonal dimension (average item size) of visual dot arrays. Along the dorsal visual stream, numerosity explained a significant amount of variance in activation patterns, above and beyond non-numerical dimensions. Its representation was selectively amplified and progressively enhanced across the hierarchy when task relevant. Our results reveal a sensory extraction mechanism yielding information on numerosity separable from other dimensions already at early visual stages and suggest that later regions along the dorsal stream are most important for explicit manipulation of numerical quantity.