Symbol processing in the left angular gyrus: evidence from passive perception of digits

Neuroimage. 2011 Aug 1;57(3):1205-11. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.05.035. Epub 2011 May 17.


Arabic digits are one of the most ubiquitous symbol sets in the world. While there have been many investigations into the neural processing of the semantic information digits represent (e.g. through numerical comparison tasks), little is known about the neural mechanisms which support the processing of digits as visual symbols. To characterise the component neurocognitive mechanisms which underlie numerical cognition, it is essential to understand the processing of digits as a visual category, independent of numerical magnitude processing. The 'Triple Code Model' (Dehaene, 1992; Dehaene and Cohen, 1995) posits an asemantic visual code for processing Arabic digits in the ventral visual stream, yet there is currently little empirical evidence in support of this code. This outstanding question was addressed in the current functional Magnetic Resonance (fMRI) study by contrasting brain responses during the passive viewing of digits versus letters and novel symbols at short (50 ms) and long (500 ms) presentation times. The results of this study reveal increased activation for familiar symbols (digits and letters) relative to unfamiliar symbols (scrambled digits and letters) at long presentation durations in the left dorsal Angular gyrus (dAG). Furthermore, increased activation for Arabic digits was observed in the left ventral Angular gyrus (vAG) in comparison to letters, scrambled digits and scrambled letters at long presentation durations, but no digit specific activation in any region at short presentation durations. These results suggest an absence of a digit specific 'Visual Number Form Area' (VNFA) in the ventral visual cortex, and provide evidence for the role of the left ventral AG during the processing of digits in the absence of any explicit processing demands. We conclude that Arabic digit processing depends specifically on the left AG rather than a ventral visual stream VNFA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Young Adult