Frequency-based dissociation of symbolic and nonsymbolic numerical processing during numerical comparison

Orly Rubinsten, Nachshon Korem, Naama Levin, Tamar Furman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent evidence suggests that during numerical calculation, symbolic and nonsymbolic processing are functionally distinct operations. Nevertheless, both roughly recruit the same brain areas (spatially overlapping networks in the parietal cortex) and happen at the same time (roughly 250 msec poststimulus onset). We tested the hypothesis that symbolic and nonsymbolic processing are segregated by means of functionally relevant networks in different frequency ranges: high gamma (above 50 Hz) for symbolic processing and lower beta (12-17 Hz) for nonsymbolic processing. EEG signals were quantified as participants compared either symbolic numbers or nonsymbolic quantities. Larger EEG gamma-band power was observed for more difficult symbolic comparisons (ratio of 0.8 between the two numbers) than for easier comparisons (ratio of 0.2) over frontocentral regions. Similarly, beta-band power was larger for more difficult nonsymbolic comparisons than for easier ones over parietal areas. These results confirm the existence of a functional dissociation in EEG oscillatory dynamics during numerical processing that is compatible with the notion of distinct linguistic processing of symbolic numbers and approximation of nonsymbolic numerical information.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)762-782
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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