Counting on neurons: the neurobiology of numerical competence

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2005 Mar;6(3):177-90. doi: 10.1038/nrn1626.


Numbers are an integral part of our everyday life - we use them to quantify, rank and identify objects. The verbal number concept allows humans to develop superior mathematical and logic skills that define technologically advanced cultures. However, basic numerical competence is rooted in biological primitives that can be explored in animals, infants and human adults alike. We are now beginning to unravel its anatomical basis and neuronal mechanisms on many levels, down to its single neuron correlate. Neural representations of numerical information can engage extensive cerebral networks, but the posterior parietal cortex and the prefrontal cortex are the key structures in primates.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Mathematics*
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurobiology* / history
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Symbolism