Topology-defined units in numerosity perception

Lixia He, Ke Zhou, Tiangang Zhou, Sheng He, Lin Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


What is a number? The number sense hypothesis suggests that numerosity is "a primary visual property" like color, contrast, or orientation. However, exactly what attribute of a stimulus is the primary visual property and determines numbers in the number sense? To verify the invariant nature of numerosity perception, we manipulated the numbers of items connected/enclosed in arbitrary and irregular forms while controlling for low-level features (e.g., orientation, color, and size). Subjects performed discrimination, estimation, and equality judgment tasks in a wide range of presentation durations and across small and large numbers. Results consistently show that connecting/enclosing items led to robust numerosity underestimation, with the extent of underestimation increasing monotonically with the number of connected/enclosed items. In contrast, grouping based on color similarity had no effect on numerosity judgment. We propose that numbers or the primitive units counted in numerosity perception are influenced by topological invariants, such as connectivity and the inside/outside relationship. Beyond the behavioral measures, neural tuning curves to numerosity in the intraparietal sulcus were obtained using functional MRI adaptation, and the tuning curves showed that numbers represented in the intraparietal sulcus were strongly influenced by topology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E5647-E5655
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number41
StatePublished - Oct 13 2015


  • Functional MRI adaptation
  • Global-first topological perception
  • Number
  • Numerosity perception
  • Topological invariants

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