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Trends Cogn Sci. 2010 Dec;14(12):542-51. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2010.09.008. Epub 2010 Nov 4.

Neurocognitive start-up tools for symbolic number representations.

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INSERM, U562, Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit, CEA/SAC/DSV/DRM/Neurospin Center, Bât 145, Point Courier 156, F-91191 Gif-sur-Yvette Cedex, France.


Attaching meaning to arbitrary symbols (i.e. words) is a complex and lengthy process. In the case of numbers, it was previously suggested that this process is grounded on two early pre-verbal systems for numerical quantification: the approximate number system (ANS or 'analogue magnitude'), and the object tracking system (OTS or 'parallel individuation'), which children are equipped with before symbolic learning. Each system is based on dedicated neural circuits, characterized by specific computational limits, and each undergoes a separate developmental trajectory. Here, I review the available cognitive and neuroscientific data and argue that the available evidence is more consistent with a crucial role for the ANS, rather than for the OTS, in the acquisition of abstract numerical concepts that are uniquely human.

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