Scientific investigations have long emphasized the cortex’s role in cognitive transfer and arithmetic abilities. To date, however, this assumption has not been thoroughly empirically investigated. Here we demonstrated that primitive mechanisms—lower visual channels—have a causal role in cognitive transfer of complex skills such as symbolic arithmetic. We found that exposing only one monocular channel to a visuospatial training resulted in a larger transfer effect in the trained monocular channel compared to the untrained monocular channel. Such cognitive transfer was found for both novel figural-spatial problems (near transfer) and novel subtraction problems (far transfer). Importantly, the benefits of the trained eye were not observed in old problems and in other tasks that did not involve visuospatial abilities (the Stroop task, a multiplication task). These results challenge the exclusive role of the cortex in cognitive transfer and complex arithmetic. In addition, the results suggest a new mechanism for the emergence of cognitive skills, that could be shared across different species.
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