How humans count: numerosity and the parietal cortex

Neuroscientist. 2009 Jun;15(3):261-73. doi: 10.1177/1073858409333073.


Numerosity (the number of objects in a set), like color or movement, is a basic property of the environment. Animal and human brains have been endowed by evolution by mechanisms based on parietal circuitry for representing numerosity in an highly abstract, although approximate fashion. These mechanisms are functional at a very early age in humans and spontaneously deployed in the wild by animals of different species. The recent years have witnessed terrific advances in unveiling the neural code(s) underlying numerosity representations and showing similarities as well as differences across species. In humans, during development, with the introduction of symbols for numbers and the implementation of the counting routines, the parietal system undergoes profound (yet still largely mysterious) modifications, such that the neural machinery previously evolved to represent approximate numerosity gets partially "recycled" to support the representation of exact number.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Brain Mapping
  • Humans
  • Mathematics*
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*