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Sep 10, 2013 09:55 AM EDT

'Sixth Sense' Mapped Out in Human Brain: What Scientists Discovered About 'Numerosity'

Scientists have finally mapped out the part of the brain responsible for a sixth sense, but it is probably not what you are thinking it is.

According to a press release, the part of the human brain is organized topographically to compare the amount of things in a group. That part of the brain is laid out in a way making possible communication between the shortest distances.

The sixth sense the research team believes they have finally proven exists is "numerosity." Scientists have long theorized this to be a sense on the same level as sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing, but have not been able to prove it exists. It is, however, not the same as symbolic numbers.

"We use symbolic numbers to represent numerosity and other aspects of magnitude, but the symbol itself is only a representation," Benjamin Harvey, of the University of Utrecht, said. "This latter task relies on very different parts of the brain that specialize in written and spoken language."

Symbolic numbers are the representation of what humans understand to be numerical figures. In other words, it is the shapes, written words and numerals that help humans understand what a number is. Numerosity, on the other hand, is how the brain interprets the visual representation of a collection of things in a group. It could be as simple as apples in a row or as vast as grains of sand on a beach.

Harvey and his team tested out the new brain map, called the topographical map, by asking eight adult participants to analyze a pattern of dots, which would change over time. While the participants did this, the team studied the participants' brain activity using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging).

The team's study was published Friday in the journal Science.

"Every individual brain is a complex and very different system," Harvey said. "I was very surprised then that the map we report is in such a consistent location between our subjects, and that numerosity preferences always increased in the same direction along the cortex."

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