Objects, numbers, fingers, space: clustering of ventral and dorsal functions in young children and adults


Address for correspondence: Manuela Piazza, Inserm – CEA Cognitive Neuroimaging Unit, Neurospin Center, Bat 145, Point Courrier 156 - F-91191, Gif/Yvette, France; e-mail: manuela.piazza@gmail.com


In the primate brain, sensory information is processed along two partially segregated cortical streams: the ventral stream, mainly coding for objects' shape and identity, and the dorsal stream, mainly coding for objects' quantitative information (including size, number, and spatial position). Neurophysiological measures indicate that such functional segregation is present early on in infancy, and that the two streams follow independent maturational trajectories during childhood. Here we collected, in a large sample of young children and adults, behavioural measures on an extensive set of functions typically associated with either the dorsal or the ventral stream. We then used a correlational approach to investigate the presence of inter-individual variability resulting in clustering of functions. Results show that dorsal- and ventral-related functions follow two uncorrelated developmental trajectories. Moreover, within each stream, some functions show age-independent correlations: finger gnosis, non-symbolic numerical abilities and spatial abilities within the dorsal stream, and object and face recognition abilities within the ventral stream. This pattern of clear within-stream cross-task correlation seems to be lost in adults, with two notable exceptions: performance in face and object recognition on one side, and in symbolic and non-symbolic comparison on the other, remain correlated, pointing to distinct shape recognition and quantity comparison systems.