The "mental number line" (MNL) is a form of spatial numeric representation that associates small and large numbers with the left and right spaces, respectively. This spatio-numeric organization can be found in adult humans and has been related to cultural factors such as writing and reading habits. Yet, both human newborns and birds order numbers consistently with an MNL, thus raising the question of whether culture is a main explanation for MNL. Here, we explored the numeric sense of honey bees and show that after being trained to associate numbers with a sucrose reward, they order numbers not previously experienced from left to right according to their magnitude. Importantly, the location of a number on that scale varies with the reference number previously trained and does not depend on low-level cues present on numeric stimuli. We provide a series of neural explanations for this effect based on the extensive knowledge accumulated on the neural underpinnings of visual processing in honey bees and conclude that the MNL is a form of numeric representation that is evolutionarily conserved across nervous systems endowed with a sense of number, irrespective of their neural complexity.

An insect brain organizes numbers on a left-to-right mental number line

Rugani R.
Conceptualization
2022

Abstract

The "mental number line" (MNL) is a form of spatial numeric representation that associates small and large numbers with the left and right spaces, respectively. This spatio-numeric organization can be found in adult humans and has been related to cultural factors such as writing and reading habits. Yet, both human newborns and birds order numbers consistently with an MNL, thus raising the question of whether culture is a main explanation for MNL. Here, we explored the numeric sense of honey bees and show that after being trained to associate numbers with a sucrose reward, they order numbers not previously experienced from left to right according to their magnitude. Importantly, the location of a number on that scale varies with the reference number previously trained and does not depend on low-level cues present on numeric stimuli. We provide a series of neural explanations for this effect based on the extensive knowledge accumulated on the neural underpinnings of visual processing in honey bees and conclude that the MNL is a form of numeric representation that is evolutionarily conserved across nervous systems endowed with a sense of number, irrespective of their neural complexity.
File in questo prodotto:
File Dimensione Formato  
Giurfa et al. PNAS 2022.pdf

accesso aperto

Tipologia: Published (publisher's version)
Licenza: Creative commons
Dimensione 1.38 MB
Formato Adobe PDF
1.38 MB Adobe PDF Visualizza/Apri
Pubblicazioni consigliate

I documenti in IRIS sono protetti da copyright e tutti i diritti sono riservati, salvo diversa indicazione.

Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11577/3461679
Citazioni
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.pmc??? ND
  • Scopus 18
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.isi??? 17
social impact