Numerosity processing in early visual cortex
While parietal cortex is thought to be critical for representing numerical magnitudes, we recently reported an event-related potential (ERP) study demonstrating selective neural sensitivity to numerosity over midline occipital sites very early in the time course, suggesting the involvement of early visual cortex in numerosity processing. However, which specific brain area underlies such early activation is not known. Here, we tested whether numerosity-sensitive neural signatures arise specifically from the initial stages of visual cortex, aiming to localize the generator of these signals by taking advantage of the distinctive folding pattern of early occipital cortices around the calcarine sulcus, which predicts an inversion of polarity of ERPs arising from these areas when stimuli are presented in the upper versus lower visual field. Dot arrays, including 8–32 dots constructed systematically across various numerical and non-numerical visual attributes, were presented randomly in either the upper or lower visual hemifields. Our results show that neural responses at about 90 ms post-stimulus were robustly sensitive to numerosity. Moreover, the peculiar pattern of polarity inversion of numerosity-sensitive activity at this stage suggested its generation primarily in V2 and V3. In contrast, numerosity-sensitive ERP activity at occipito-parietal channels later in the time course (210–230 ms) did not show polarity inversion, indicating a subsequent processing stage in the dorsal stream. Overall, these results demonstrate that numerosity processing begins in one of the earliest stages of the cortical visual stream.