Format-dependent and format-independent representation of sequential and simultaneous numerosity in the crow endbrain.Nat Commun. 2020 02 04; 11(1):686.NC
Humans' symbolic counting skills are built on a primordial ability to approximately estimate the number of items, or numerosity. To date it is debated whether numerosities presented in categorically different formats, that is as temporal sequences versus spatial arrays, are represented abstractly in the brain. To address this issue, we identified the behavioral characteristics and neuronal codes for sequential and simultaneous number formats in crows. We find a format-dependent representation by distinct groups of selective neurons during the sensory encoding stage. However, an abstract and format-independent numerosity code emerges once the encoding phase is completed and numerosities needed to be memorized. These results suggest a successive two-stage code for categorically different number formats and help to reconcile conflicting findings observed in psychophysics and brain imaging.