Cognitive processes underlying arithmetical skills in primary school: the role of fluency, handwriting, number line and number acuity, Neuropsy Trends, (23).

The aim of the present study is to determine the presence of specific and independent core processes involved in arithmetical skills. We evaluated performances of 68 typically developing school children (8-11 yrs) on numerosity acuity, number line, handwriting (non-math writing skills), phonemic and design fluency as well as math abilities. A principal component analysis on math subtests scores revealed three main factors: Numeracy, Magnitude and Handwriting. Correlations showed that phonemic fluency was associated with the Numeracy factor and the Magnitude factor while design fluency with the Handwriting factor. Number acuity was associated with the Magnitude factor, number line with the Numeracy factor, handwriting with the Handwriting factor. Hierarchical regressions analyses indicated that number acuity, number line, phonemic fluency and handwriting explained unique variance portions on Math test (factors scores). Our study suggests an explanation of the cognitive architecture of processes involved in arithmetical skills in school children.

Simultaneous and sequential subitizing are separate systems, and neither predicts math abilities, Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, (178), 86-103.

Small quantities of visual objects can be rapidly estimated without error, a phenomenon known as subitizing. Larger quantities can also be rapidly estimated, but with error, and the error rate predicts math abilities. This study addressed two issues: (a) whether subitizing generalizes over modalities and stimulus formats and (b) whether subitizing correlates with math abilities. We measured subitizing limits in primary school children and adults for visual and auditory stimuli presented either sequentially (sequences of flashes or sounds) or simultaneously (visual presentations, dot arrays). The results show that (a) subitizing limits for adults were one item larger than those for primary school children across all conditions; (b) subitizing for simultaneous visual stimuli (dots) was better than that for sequential stimuli; (c) subitizing limits for dots do not correlate with subitizing limits for either flashes or sounds; (d) subitizing of sequences of flashes and subitizing of sequences of sounds are strongly correlated with each other in children; and (e) regardless of stimuli sensory modality and format, subitizing limits do not correlate with mental calculation or digit magnitude knowledge proficiency. These results suggest that although children can subitize sequential numerosity, simultaneous and temporal subitizing may be subserved by separate systems. Furthermore, subitizing does not seem to be related to numerical abilities.

Temporal Coding of Visual Space, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10 (22), 883-895.

Establishing a representation of space is a major goal of sensory systems. Spatial information, however, is not always explicit in the incoming sensory signals. In most modalities it needs to be actively extracted from cues embedded in the temporal flow of receptor activation. Vision, on the other hand, starts with a sophisticated optical imaging system that explicitly preserves spatial information on the retina. This may lead to the assumption that vision is predominantly a spatial process: all that is needed is to transmit the retinal image to the cortex, like uploading a digital photograph, to establish a spatial map of the world. However, this deceptively simple analogy is inconsistent with theoretical models and experiments that study visual processing in the context of normal motor behavior. We argue here that, as with other senses, vision relies heavily on temporal strategies and temporal neural codes to extract and represent spatial information.

Motion-induced compression of perceived numerosity, Sci Rep, 1 (8), 6966.

It has been recently proposed that space, time, and number might share a common representation in the brain. Evidence supporting this idea comes from adaptation studies demonstrating that prolonged exposure to a given stimulus feature distorts the perception of different characteristics. For example, visual motion adaptation affects both perceived position and duration of subsequent stimuli presented in the adapted location. Here, we tested whether motion adaptation also affects perceived numerosity, by testing the effect of adaptation to translating or rotating stimuli moving either at high (20 Hz) or low (5 Hz) speed. Adaptation to fast translational motion yielded a robust reduction in the apparent numerosity of the adapted stimulus (~25%) while adaptation to slow translational or circular motion (either 20 Hz or 5 Hz) yielded a weaker but still significant compression. Control experiments suggested that none of these results could be accounted for in terms of stimulus masking. Taken together, our results are consistent with the extant literature supporting the idea of a generalized magnitude system underlying the representation of numerosity, space and time via common metrics. However, as changes in perceived numerosity co-varied with both adapting motion profile and speed, our evidence also suggests complex and asymmetric interactions between different magnitude representations.

Rhythmic motor behaviour influences perception of visual time, Proc Biol Sci, 1888 (285).

Temporal processing is fundamental for an accurate synchronization between motor behaviour and sensory processing. Here, we investigate how motor timing during rhythmic tapping influences perception of visual time. Participants listen to a sequence of four auditory tones played at 1 Hz and continue the sequence (without auditory stimulation) by tapping four times with their finger. During finger tapping, they are presented with an empty visual interval and are asked to judge its length compared to a previously internalized interval of 150 ms. The visual temporal estimates show non-monotonic changes locked to the finger tapping: perceived time is maximally expanded at halftime between the two consecutive finger taps, and maximally compressed near tap onsets. Importantly, the temporal dynamics of the perceptual time distortion scales linearly with the timing of the motor tapping, with maximal expansion always being anchored to the centre of the inter-tap interval. These results reveal an intrinsic coupling between distortion of perceptual time and production of self-timed motor rhythms, suggesting the existence of a timing mechanism that keeps perception and action accurately synchronized.

Asymmetrical interference between number and item size perception provides evidence for a domain specific impairment in dyscalculia.

Dyscalculia, a specific learning disability that impacts arithmetical skills, has previously been associated to a deficit in the precision of the system that estimates the approximate number of objects in visual scenes (the so called ‘number sense’ system). However, because in tasks involving numerosity comparisons dyscalculics’ judgements appears disproportionally affected by continuous quantitative dimensions (such as the size of the items), an alternative view linked dyscalculia to a domain-general difficulty in inhibiting task-irrelevant responses. To arbitrate between these views, we evaluated the degree of reciprocal interference between numerical and non-numerical quantitative dimensions in adult dyscalculics and matched controls. We used a novel stimulus set orthogonally varying in mean item size and numerosity, putting particular attention into matching both features’ perceptual discriminability. Participants compared those stimuli based on each of the two dimensions. While control subjects showed no significant size interference when judging numerosity, dyscalculics’ numerosity judgments were strongly biased by the unattended size dimension. Importantly however, both groups showed the same degree of interference from the unattended dimension when judging mean size. Moreover, only the ability to discard the irrelevant size information when comparing numerosity (but not the reverse) significantly predicted calculation ability across subjects. Overall, our results show that numerosity discrimination is less prone to interference than discrimination of another quantitative feature (mean item size) when the perceptual discriminability of these features is matched, as here in control subjects. By quantifying, for the first time, dyscalculic subjects’ degree of interference on another orthogonal dimension of the same stimuli, we are able to exclude a domain-general inhibition deficit as explanation for their poor / biased numerical judgement. We suggest that enhanced reliance on non-numerical cues during numerosity discrimination can represent a strategy to cope with a less precise number sense. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)

Adult cortical plasticity peaks after every meal, ECVP, 41nd European Conference on Visual Perception (ECVP)”, 2018, Trieste, Italia.

Motion information can reach V5/MT through two parallel routes: one conveying information at early latencies through a direct subcortical route and the other reaching V5 later via recurrent projections through V1. Here, we tested the hypothesis that input via the faster direct pathway depends on motion characteristics. To this end, we presented motion stimuli to healthy human observers at different velocities (4.4°/sec vs. 23°/sec) with static stimuli as controls while applying transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) pulses over V5 or V1. We probed for TMS interference with objective (two-alternative forced choice [2AFC]) and subjective (awareness) measures of motion processing at six TMS delays from stimulus onset (poststimulus window covered: ∼27-160 msec). Our results for V5-TMS showed earlier interference with objective performance for fast motion (53.3 msec) than slow motion (80 msec) stimuli. Importantly, TMS-induced decreases in objective measures of motion processing did correlate with decreases in subjective measures for slow but not fast motion stimuli. Moreover, V1-TMS induced a temporally unspecific interference with visual processing as it impaired the processing of both motion and static stimuli at the same delays. These results are in accordance with fast moving stimuli reaching V5 through a different route than slow moving stimuli. The differential latencies and coupling to awareness suggest distinct involvement of a direct (i.e., colliculo-extrastriate) connection bypassing V1 depending on stimulus velocity (fast vs. slow). Implication of a direct pathway in the early processing of fast motion may have evolved through its behavioral relevance.