June 2006
Volume 6, Issue 6
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   June 2006
and element size bias numerosity perception
Author Affiliations
  • Miles Shuman
    Department of Psychology, Harvard University
  • Elizabeth Spelke
    Department of Psychology, Harvard University
Journal of Vision June 2006, Vol.6, 777. doi:https://doi.org/10.1167/6.6.777
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      Miles Shuman, Elizabeth Spelke; and element size bias numerosity perception. Journal of Vision 2006;6(6):777. https://doi.org/10.1167/6.6.777.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Most recent work in numerical cognition has focused on the representational level. The consensus view is that symbolic numbers (e.g. Arabic digits) and non-symbolic numerical stimuli (e.g. dot arrays) alike engage an ‘analog magnitude’ representation system; the debate has largely moved to questions such as innateness and neural localization. Here, we take a step back to examine the perceptual mechanism that enables us to extract a numerical representation from a set of elements. The most prominent current models propose that this mechanism is iterative, individuating and tagging each element (sequentially or in parallel,) then summing to obtain a numerical magnitude. The observed variability in judged number (e.g. variability proportional to N in estimation tasks) is attributed to the representational system, rather than the perceptual mechanism. An alternative possibility is that the mechanism for numerosity perception is holistic, involving (e.g.) a ‘calculation’ of element density x ‘envelope’ area, and that variability in the perceived magnitudes of these continuous quantities is an important contributor to variability in represented numerical magnitude. We tested whether parametric variation of ‘continuous quantity’ variables - element size and envelope area - would systematically bias judgments of numerosity. We found a very strong effect of envelope area (with larger, lower density arrays judged more numerous) and a significant (though smaller in magnitude) effect of element size (with arrays of smaller elements judged more numerous.) These results pose a serious challenge to iterative models of numerosity perception, and suggest that perception may be an important source of noise in numerical cognition.

Shuman, M. Spelke, E. (2006). Area and element size bias numerosity perception [Abstract]. Journal of Vision, 6(6):777, 777a, http://journalofvision.org/6/6/777/, doi:10.1167/6.6.777. [CrossRef] [PubMed]

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