Activation of the horizontal segment of the intraparietal sulcus (hIPS) has been observed in various number-processing tasks, whether numbers were conveyed by symbolic numerals (digits, number words) or by nonsymbolic displays (dot patterns). This suggests an abstract coding of numerical magnitude. Here, we critically tested this hypothesis using fMRI adaptation to demonstrate notation-independent coding of numerical quantity in the hIPS. Once subjects were adapted either to dot patterns or to Arabic digits, activation in the hIPS and in frontal regions recovered in a distance-dependent fashion whenever a new number was presented, irrespective of notation changes. This remained unchanged when analyzing the hIPS peaks from an independent localizer scan of mental calculation. These results suggest an abstract coding of approximate number common to dots, digits, and number words. They support the idea that symbols acquire meaning by linking neural populations coding symbol shapes to those holding nonsymbolic representations of quantities.
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