Togoli, I., & Arrighi, R.

Evidence for an A-Modal Number Sense: Numerosity Adaptation Generalizes Across Visual,Auditory, and Tactile Stimuli

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 15, 448

https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2021.713565 Download

Humans and other species share a perceptual mechanism dedicated to the representation of approximate quantities that allows to rapidly and reliably estimate the numerosity of a set of objects: an Approximate Number System (ANS). Numerosity perception shows a characteristic shared by all primary visual features: it is susceptible to adaptation. As a consequence of prolonged exposure to a large/small quantity (“adaptor”), the apparent numerosity of a subsequent (“test”) stimulus is distorted yielding a robust under- or over-estimation, respectively. Even if numerosity adaptation has been reported across several sensory modalities (vision, audition, and touch), suggesting the idea of a central and a-modal numerosity processing system, evidence for cross-modal effects are limited to vision and audition, two modalities that are known to preferentially encode sensory stimuli in an external coordinate system. Here we test whether numerosity adaptation for visual and auditory stimuli also distorts the perceived numerosity of tactile stimuli (and vice-versa) despite touch being a modality primarily coded in an internal (body-centered) reference frame. We measured numerosity discrimination of stimuli presented sequentially after adaptation to series of either few (around 2 Hz; low adaptation) or numerous (around 8 Hz; high adaptation) impulses for all possible combinations of visual, auditory, or tactile adapting and test stimuli. In all cases, adapting to few impulses yielded a significant overestimation of the test numerosity with the opposite occurring as a consequence of adaptation to numerous stimuli. The overall magnitude of adaptation was robust (around 30%) and rather similar for all sensory modality combinations. Overall, these findings support the idea of a truly generalized and a-modal mechanism for numerosity representation aimed to process numerical information independently from the sensory modality of the incoming signals.