Because number is an abstract quality of a set, the way in which a number is externally represented does not change its quantitative meaning. In this study, we examined the development of the brain regions that support format-independent representation of numerical magnitude. We asked children and adults to perform both symbolic (Hindu-Arabic numerals) and nonsymbolic (arrays of squares) numerical comparison tasks as well as two control tasks while their brains were scanned using fMRI. In a preliminary analysis, we calculated the conjunction between symbolic and nonsymbolic numerical comparison. We then examined in which brain regions this conjunction differed between children and adults. This analysis revealed a large network of visual and parietal regions that showed greater activation in adults relative to children. In our primary analysis, we examined age-related differences in the conjunction of symbolic and nonsymbolic comparison after subtracting the control tasks. This analysis revealed a much more limited set of regions including the right inferior parietal lobe near the intraparietal sulcus. In addition to showing increased activation to both symbolic and nonsymbolic magnitudes over and above activation related to response selection, this region showed age-related differences in the distance effect. Our findings demonstrate that the format-independent representation of numerical magnitude in the right inferior parietal lobe is the product of developmental processes of cortical specialization and highlight the importance of using appropriate control tasks when conducting developmental neuroimaging studies.

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