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01.12.2018 | Research | Ausgabe 1/2018 Open Access

Behavioral and Brain Functions 1/2018

Magnitude processing of symbolic and non-symbolic proportions: an fMRI study

Behavioral and Brain Functions > Ausgabe 1/2018
Julia Mock, Stefan Huber, Johannes Bloechle, Julia F. Dietrich, Julia Bahnmueller, Johannes Rennig, Elise Klein, Korbinian Moeller
Wichtige Hinweise
Julia Mock and Stefan Huber contributed equally to this work and should be considered shared first authors



Recent research indicates that processing proportion magnitude is associated with activation in the intraparietal sulcus. Thus, brain areas associated with the processing of numbers (i.e., absolute magnitude) were activated during processing symbolic fractions as well as non-symbolic proportions. Here, we investigated systematically the cognitive processing of symbolic (e.g., fractions and decimals) and non-symbolic proportions (e.g., dot patterns and pie charts) in a two-stage procedure. First, we investigated relative magnitude-related activations of proportion processing. Second, we evaluated whether symbolic and non-symbolic proportions share common neural substrates.


We conducted an fMRI study using magnitude comparison tasks with symbolic and non-symbolic proportions, respectively. As an indicator for magnitude-related processing of proportions, the distance effect was evaluated.


A conjunction analysis indicated joint activation of specific occipito-parietal areas including right intraparietal sulcus (IPS) during proportion magnitude processing. More specifically, results indicate that the IPS, which is commonly associated with absolute magnitude processing, is involved in processing relative magnitude information as well, irrespective of symbolic or non-symbolic presentation format. However, we also found distinct activation patterns for the magnitude processing of the different presentation formats.


Our findings suggest that processing for the separate presentation formats is not only associated with magnitude manipulations in the IPS, but also increasing demands on executive functions and strategy use associated with frontal brain regions as well as visual attention and encoding in occipital regions. Thus, the magnitude processing of proportions may not exclusively reflect processing of number magnitude information but also rather domain-general processes.
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