Spatiotemporal dynamics of processing nonsymbolic number: An event-related potential source localization study

Daniel C. Hyde, Elizabeth S. Spelke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Coordinated studies with adults, infants, and nonhuman animals provide evidence for two distinct systems of nonverbal number representation. The "parallel individuation" (PI) system selects and retains information about one to three individual entities and the "numerical magnitude" system establishes representations of the approximate cardinal value of a group. Recent event-related potential (ERP) work has demonstrated that these systems reliably evoke functionally and temporally distinct patterns of brain response that correspond to established behavioral signatures. However, relatively little is known about the neural generators of these ERP signatures. To address this question, we targeted known ERP signatures of these systems, by contrasting processing of small versus large nonsymbolic numbers, and used a source localization algorithm (LORETA) to identify their cortical origins. Early processing of small numbers, showing the signature effects of PI on the N1 (∼150 ms), was localized primarily to extrastriate visual regions. In contrast, qualitatively and temporally distinct processing of large numbers, showing the signatures of approximate number representation on the mid-latency P2p (∼200-250 ms), was localized primarily to right intraparietal regions. In comparison, mid-latency small number processing was localized to the right temporal-parietal junction and left-lateralized intraparietal regions. These results add spatial information to the emerging ERP literature documenting the process by which we represent number. Furthermore, these results substantiate recent claims that early attentional processes determine whether a collection of objects will be represented through PI or as an approximate numerical magnitude by providing evidence that downstream processing diverges to distinct cortical regions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2189-2203
Number of pages15
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Attention
  • Brain electrophysiology
  • Cognition
  • Parietal lobe

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Radiological and Ultrasound Technology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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