Abstract

Recent evidence suggests that during numerical calculation, symbolic and nonsymbolic processing are functionally distinct operations. Nevertheless, both roughly recruit the same brain areas (spatially overlapping networks in the parietal cortex) and happen at the same time (roughly 250 msec poststimulus onset). We tested the hypothesis that symbolic and nonsymbolic processing are segregated by means of functionally relevant networks in different frequency ranges: high gamma (above 50 Hz) for symbolic processing and lower beta (12–17 Hz) for nonsymbolic processing. EEG signals were quantified as participants compared either symbolic numbers or nonsymbolic quantities. Larger EEG gamma-band power was observed for more difficult symbolic comparisons (ratio of 0.8 between the two numbers) than for easier comparisons (ratio of 0.2) over frontocentral regions. Similarly, beta-band power was larger for more difficult nonsymbolic comparisons than for easier ones over parietal areas. These results confirm the existence of a functional dissociation in EEG oscillatory dynamics during numerical processing that is compatible with the notion of distinct linguistic processing of symbolic numbers and approximation of nonsymbolic numerical information.

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