Automatic and intentional number processing both rely on intact right parietal cortex: a combined FMRI and neuronavigated TMS study.
Cohen Kadosh R., Bien N., Sack AT.
Practice and training usually lead to performance increase in a given task. In addition, a shift from intentional toward more automatic processing mechanisms is often observed. It is currently debated whether automatic and intentional processing is subserved by the same or by different mechanism(s), and whether the same or different regions in the brain are recruited. Previous correlational evidence provided by behavioral, neuroimaging, modeling, and neuropsychological studies addressing this question yielded conflicting results. Here we used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to compare the causal influence of disrupting either left or right parietal cortex during automatic and intentional numerical processing, as reflected by the size congruity effect and the numerical distance effect, respectively. We found a functional hemispheric asymmetry within parietal cortex with only the TMS-induced right parietal disruption impairing both automatic and intentional numerical processing. In contrast, disrupting the left parietal lobe with TMS, or applying sham stimulation, did not affect performance during automatic or intentional numerical processing. The current results provide causal evidence for the functional relevance of right, but not left, parietal cortex for intentional, and automatic numerical processing, implying that at least within the parietal cortices, automatic, and intentional numerical processing rely on the same underlying hemispheric lateralization.