In the congenitally blind, the visual cortex gets used for counting
Mark Hillen |
In eyecare, we often refer to “count fingers” when it comes to characterizing poor vision. But counting fingers is an example of a visual, numerical cue that helps everything from sighted, preverbal infants to non-human animals like dogs and horses learn to count. It’s known that reasoning about both approximate and exact numbers depends on a region of the brain’s cortex called the fronto-parietal network, in particular, the intraparietal sulcus (IPS). The IPS is an interesting region – it sits near the visual cortex, and is also involved in a number of aspects of vision, from saccades to depth perception. Functional MRI (fMRI) studies have suggested that IPS activity during numerical processing can be seen in children from the age of four years, and that the harder the mathematical problem, the harder the IPS works. But this begs a question: four-year olds have been counting for years before their IPS lights up on fMRI, so how much does (visual) experience – like the counting of fingers or chocolate buttons – contribute to IPS development?
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