September 26, 2009

I’m thinking of a number (of dots)

Scientists had 10 volunteers watch either numerals or dots on a screen while a part of their brain known as the intraparietal cortex was scanned – it’s a region of the parietal lobe especially linked with numbers. They next rigorously analyzed brain activity to decipher which patterns might be linked with the numbers the volunteers had observed.

When it came to small numbers of dots, the researchers found that brain activity patterns changed gradually in a way that reflected the ordered nature of the numbers. For example, one might be able to conclude that the pattern for six is between that for five and seven.

Oddly, the article begins by saying scientists can also see numbers, but ends with this:

In the case of the numerals, the researchers could not detect this same gradual change. This suggests their methods simply might not be sensitive enough to detect this progression yet, or that these symbols are in fact coded as more precise, discrete entities in the brain.

So much for relaying information.