Neural underpinnings of numerical and spatial cognition: An fMRI meta-analysis of brain regions associated with symbolic number, arithmetic, and mental rotation.


Department of Psychology, Brain and Mind Institute, University of Western Ontario, Canada. Electronic address: [Email]


Where and under what conditions do spatial and numerical skills converge and diverge in the brain? To address this question, we conducted a meta-analysis of brain regions associated with basic symbolic number processing, arithmetic, and mental rotation. We used Activation Likelihood Estimation (ALE) to construct quantitative meta-analytic maps synthesizing results from 83 neuroimaging papers (24-31 studies/cognitive process). All three cognitive processes were found to activate bilateral parietal regions in and around the intraparietal sulcus (IPS); a finding consistent with shared processing accounts. Numerical and arithmetic processing were associated with overlap in the left IPS, whereas mental rotation and arithmetic both showed activity in the middle frontal gyri. These patterns suggest regions of cortex potentially more specialized for symbolic number representation and domain-general mental manipulation, respectively. Additionally, arithmetic was associated with unique activity throughout the fronto-parietal network and mental rotation was associated with unique activity in the right superior parietal lobe. Overall, these results provide new insights into the intersection of numerical and spatial thought in the human brain.


Activation likelihood estimation (ALE),Mathematical cognition,Mental arithmetic,Mental rotation,Numerical cognition,Spatial cognition,fMRI meta-analysis,