Abstract representations of numbers in the animal and human brain

Trends Neurosci. 1998 Aug;21(8):355-61. doi: 10.1016/s0166-2236(98)01263-6.


There is evidence to suggest that animals, young infants and adult humans possess a biologically determined, domain-specific representation of number and of elementary arithmetic operations. Behavioral studies in infants and animals reveal number perception, discrimination and elementary calculation abilities in non-verbal organisms. Lesion and brain-imaging studies in humans indicate that a specific neural substrate, located in the left and right intraparietal area, is associated with knowledge of numbers and their relations ('number sense'). The number domain is a prime example where strong evidence points to an evolutionary endowment of abstract domain-specific knowledge in the brain because there are parallels between number processing in animals and humans.The numerical distance effect, which refers to the finding that the ability to discriminate between two numbers improves as the numerical distance between them increases, has been demonstrated in humans and animals, as has the number size effect,which refers to the finding that for equal numerical distance,discrimination of two numbers worsens as their numerical size increases.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Mental Processes / physiology*