Quantity without numbers and numbers without quantity in the parietal cortex

Marinella Cappelletti, Neil Muggleton, Vincent Walsh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


A dominant view in numerical cognition is that processing the quantity indicated by numbers (e.g. deciding the larger between two numbers such as '12.07' or '15.02') relies on the intraparietal regions (IPS) of the cerebral cortex. However, it remains unclear whether the IPS could play a more general role in numerical cognition, for example in (1) quantity processing even with non-numerical stimuli (e.g. choosing the larger of 'bikini' and 'coat'); and/or (2) conceptual tasks involving numbers beyond those requiring quantity processing (e.g. attributing a summer date to either '12.07' or '15.02'). In this study we applied fMRI-guided TMS to the left and right IPS, while independently manipulating stimulus and task. Our results showed that IPS involvement in numerical cognition is neither stimulus-specific nor specific for conceptual tasks. Thus, quantity judgments with numerical and non-numerical stimuli were equally affected by IPS-TMS, as well as a number conceptual task not requiring quantity comparisons. However, IPS-TMS showed no impairment for perceptual decisions on numbers without any conceptual processing (i.e. colour judgment), nor for conceptual decisions that did not involve quantity or number stimuli (e.g. summer object: 'bikini' or 'coat'?). These results are consistent with proposals that the parietal areas are engaged in the conceptual representation of numbers but they challenge the most common view that number processing is so automatic that the simple presentation of numbers activates the IPS and a sense of magnitude. Rather, our results show that the IPS is only necessary when conceptual operations need to be explicitly oriented to numerical concepts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)522-529
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2009


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