Neuronal correlates of a visual "sense of number" in primate parietal and prefrontal cortices

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2013 Jul 2;110(27):11187-92. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1308141110. Epub 2013 Jun 17.


"Sense of number" refers to the classical idea that we perceive the number of items (numerosity) intuitively. However, whether the brain signals numerosity spontaneously, in the absence of learning, remains unknown; therefore, we recorded from neurons in the ventral intraparietal sulcus and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex of numerically naive monkeys. Neurons in both brain areas responded maximally to a given number of items, showing tuning to a preferred numerosity. Numerosity was encoded earlier in area ventral intraparietal area, suggesting that numerical information is conveyed from the parietal to the frontal lobe. Visual numerosity is thus spontaneously represented as a perceptual category in a dedicated parietofrontal network. This network may form the biological foundation of a spontaneous number sense, allowing primates to intuitively estimate the number of visual items.

Keywords: association cortices; quantity; single-unit recording.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Macaca mulatta / physiology*
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*