Psychophysical evidence for the number sense, Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 1740 (373).

It is now clear that most animals, including humans, possess an ability to rapidly estimate number. Some have questioned whether this ability arises from dedicated numerosity mechanisms, or is derived indirectly from judgements of density or other attributes. We describe a series of psychophysical experiments, largely using adaptation techniques, which demonstrate clearly the existence of a number sense in humans. The number sense is truly general, extending over space, time and sensory modality, and is closely linked with action. We further show that when multiple cues are present, numerosity emerges as the natural dimension for discrimination. However, when element density increases past a certain level, the elements become too crowded to parse, and the scene is perceived as a texture rather than array of elements. The two different regimes are psychophysically discriminable in that they follow distinct psychophysical laws, and show different dependencies on eccentricity, luminance levels and effects of perceptual grouping. The distinction is important, as the ability to discriminate numerosity, but not texture, correlates with formal maths skills.This article is part of the discussion meeting issue ‘The origins of numerical abilities’.

Plasticity of the human visual brain after an early cortical lesion, Neuropsychologia.

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In adults, partial damage to V1 or optic radiations abolishes perception in the corresponding part of the visual field, causing a scotoma. However, it is widely accepted that the developing cortex has superior capacities to reorganize following an early lesion to endorse adaptive plasticity. Here we report a single patient case (G.S.) with near normal central field vision despite a massive unilateral lesion to the optic radiations acquired early in life. The patient underwent surgical removal of a right hemisphere parieto-temporal-occipital atypical choroid plexus papilloma of the right lateral ventricle at four months of age, which presumably altered the visual pathways during in utero development. Both the tumor and surgery severely compromised the optic radiations. Residual vision of G.S. was tested psychophysically when the patient was 7 years old. We found a close-to-normal visual acuity and contrast sensitivity within the central 25 degrees and a great impairment in form and contrast vision in the far periphery (40-50 degrees ) of the left visual hemifield. BOLD response to full field luminance flicker was recorded from the primary visual cortex (V1) and in a region in the residual temporal-occipital region, presumably corresponding to the middle temporal complex (MT+), of the lesioned (right) hemisphere. A population receptive field analysis of the BOLD responses to contrast modulated stimuli revealed a retinotopic organization just for the MT+ region but not for the calcarine regions. Interestingly, consistent islands of ipsilateral activity were found in MT+ and in the parieto-occipital sulcus (POS) of the intact hemisphere. Probabilistic tractography revealed that optic radiations between LGN and V1 were very sparse in the lesioned hemisphere consistently with the post-surgery cerebral resection, while normal in the intact hemisphere. On the other hand, strong structural connections between MT+ and LGN were found in the lesioned hemisphere, while the equivalent tract in the spared hemisphere showed minimal structural connectivity. These results suggest that during development of the pathological brain, abnormal thalamic projections can lead to functional cortical changes, which may mediate functional recovery of vision.