Individual differences in nonverbal number discrimination correlate with event-related potentials and measures of probabilistic reasoning.
The current study investigated the neural activity patterns associated with numerical sensitivity in adults. Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded while adults observed sequentially presented display arrays (S1 and S2) of non-symbolic numerical stimuli (dots) and made same/different judgments of these stimuli by pressing a button only when numerosities were the same (target trials). The main goals were to contrast the effects of numerical distance (close, medium, and far) and change direction (increasing, decreasing) between S1 and S2, both in terms of behavior and brain activity, and to examine the influence of individual differences in numeracy on the effects of these manipulations. Neural effects of distance were found to be significant between 360 and 600 ms after the onset of S2 (greater negativity-wave activity for closer numerical distances), while direction effects were found between 320 and 440 ms (greater negativity for decreasing direction). ERP change direction effects did not interact with numerical distance, suggesting that the two types of information are processed independently. Importantly, subjects' behavioral Weber fractions (w) for the same/different discrimination task correlated with distance-related ERP-activity amplitudes. Moreover, w also correlated with a separate objective measure of mathematical ability. Results thus draw a clear link between brain and behavior measures of number discrimination, while also providing support for the relationship between nonverbal magnitude discrimination and symbolic numerical processing.
Paulsen, DJ; Woldorff, MG; Brannon, EM
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