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Curr Biol. 2008 Mar 25;18(6):425-8. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.02.052. Epub 2008 Mar 13.

A visual sense of number.

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Dipartimento di Psicologia, Università Degli Studi di Firenze, Via S. Nicolò 89, Florence 50125, Italy.


Evidence exists for a nonverbal capacity for the apprehension of number, in humans [1] (including infants [2, 3]) and in other primates [4-6]. Here, we show that perceived numerosity is susceptible to adaptation, like primary visual properties of a scene, such as color, contrast, size, and speed. Apparent numerosity was decreased by adaptation to large numbers of dots and increased by adaptation to small numbers, the effect depending entirely on the numerosity of the adaptor, not on contrast, size, orientation, or pixel density, and occurring with very low adaptor contrasts. We suggest that the visual system has the capacity to estimate numerosity and that it is an independent primary visual property, not reducible to others like spatial frequency or density of texture [7].

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