Beyond the number domain

Trends Cogn Sci. 2009 Feb;13(2):83-91. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2008.11.007. Epub 2009 Jan 8.


In a world without numbers, we would be unable to build a skyscraper, hold a national election, plan a wedding or pay for a chicken at the market. The numerical symbols used in all these behaviors build on the approximate number system (ANS) which represents the number of discrete objects or events as a continuous mental magnitude. Here, we first discuss evidence that the ANS bears a set of behavioral and brain signatures that are universally displayed across animal species, human cultures and development. We then turn to the question of whether the ANS constitutes a specialized cognitive and neural domain - a question central to understanding how this system works, the nature of its evolutionary and developmental trajectory and its physical instantiation in the brain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Concept Formation / physiology*
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mathematics*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology