Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
A dominant hypothesis on how the brain processes numerical size proposes a spatial representation of numbers as positions on a “mental number line.” An alternative hypothesis considers numbers as elements of a generalized representation of sensorimotor-related magnitude, which is not obligatorily spatial. Here we show that individuals' relative use of spatial and nonspatial representations has a cerebral counterpart in the structural organization of the posterior parietal cortex. Interindividual variability in the linkage between numbers and spatial responses (faster left responses to small numbers and right responses to large numbers; spatial–numerical association of response codes effect) correlated with variations in gray matter volume around the right precuneus. Conversely, differences in the disposition to link numbers to force production (faster soft responses to small numbers and hard responses to large numbers) were related to gray matter volume in the left angular gyrus. This finding suggests that numerical cognition relies on multiple mental representations of analogue magnitude using different neural implementations that are linked to individual traits.