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Psychol Sci. 2006 Jul;17(7):572-6.

Multiple spatially overlapping sets can be enumerated in parallel.

Author information

1
Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA. halberda@jhu.edu

Abstract

A system for nonverbally representing the approximate number of items in visual and auditory arrays has been documented in multiple species, including humans. Although many aspects of this approximate number system are well characterized, fundamental questions remain unanswered: how does attention select which items in a scene to enumerate, and how many enumerations can be computed simultaneously? Here we show that when presented an array containing different numbers of spatially overlapping dots of many colors, human adults can select and enumerate items on the basis of shared color and can enumerate approximately three color subsets from a single glance. This three-set limit converges with previously observed three-item limits of parallel attention and visual short-term memory. This suggests that participants can select a subset of items from a complex array as a single individual set, which then serves as the input to the approximate number system.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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