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Context-Dependent Modulation of Early Visual Cortical Responses to Numerical and Nonnumerical Magnitudes
Publisher: Journals Gateway
Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (2021) 33 (12): 2536–2547.
Published: 05 November 2021
AbstractView article PDF
Whether and how the brain encodes discrete numerical magnitude differently from continuous nonnumerical magnitude is hotly debated. In a previous set of studies, we orthogonally varied numerical (numerosity) and nonnumerical (size and spacing) dimensions of dot arrays and demonstrated a strong modulation of early visual evoked potentials (VEPs) by numerosity and not by nonnumerical dimensions. Although very little is known about the brain's response to systematic changes in continuous dimensions of a dot array, some authors intuit that the visual processing stream must be more sensitive to continuous magnitude information than to numerosity. To address this possibility, we measured VEPs of participants viewing dot arrays that changed exclusively in one nonnumerical magnitude dimension at a time (size or spacing) while holding numerosity constant and compared this to a condition where numerosity was changed while holding size and spacing constant. We found reliable but small neural sensitivity to exclusive changes in size and spacing; however, exclusively changing numerosity elicited a much more robust modulation of the VEPs. Together with previous work, these findings suggest that sensitivity to magnitude dimensions in early visual cortex is context dependent: The brain is moderately sensitive to changes in size and spacing when numerosity is held constant, but sensitivity to these continuous variables diminishes to a negligible level when numerosity is allowed to vary at the same time. Neurophysiological explanations for the encoding and context dependency of numerical and nonnumerical magnitudes are proposed within the framework of neuronal normalization.