Processing number and length in the parietal cortex: Sharing resources, not a common code

Cortex. 2019 May:114:17-27. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2018.07.017. Epub 2018 Jul 31.


A current intense discussion in numerical cognition concerns the relationship between the processing of numerosity and other non-numerical quantities. In particular, it is a matter of debate whether number and other quantities (e.g., size, length) are represented separately in the brain or whether they share a common generalized magnitude representation. We acquired high-resolution functional MRI data while adult subjects engaged in a magnitude comparison task involving either numerosity (i.e., which of the two sets has more elements?) or line length (i.e., which of the two lines is longer?). We compared the activation evoked by the two different types of quantity and observed a common recruitment of a vast portion of occipital and parietal cortices. Using MVPA, we demonstrated that some of the commonly activated regions represented the discrete and continuous quantities via a similar distance-dependent magnitude code. However, we found no effect of distance across the two quantity representations, failing to support the existence of a common, dimension invariant, generalized quantity code. Taken together, these findings indicate that although the processing of number and length is supported by partially overlapping neural resources, representations within these regions do not appear to be based on a common neural code.

Keywords: Length; Magnitudes; Numerosity; Representational similarity analysis; fMRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping* / methods
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reaction Time / physiology*