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J Vis. 2013 Jan 1;13(8). pii: 5. doi: 10.1167/13.8.5.

Numerosity underestimation with item similarity in dynamic visual display.

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  • 1Research Center for Advanced Science and Technology, The University of Tokyo, Japan.


The estimation of numerosity of a large number of objects in a static visual display is possible even at short durations. Such coarse approximations of numerosity are distinct from subitizing, in which the number of objects can be reported with high precision when a small number of objects are presented simultaneously. The present study examined numerosity estimation of visual objects in dynamic displays and the effect of object similarity on numerosity estimation. In the basic paradigm (Experiment 1), two streams of dots were presented and observers were asked to indicate which of the two streams contained more dots. Streams consisting of dots that were identical in color were judged as containing fewer dots than streams where the dots were different colors. This underestimation effect for identical visual items disappeared when the presentation rate was slower (Experiment 1) or the visual display was static (Experiment 2). In Experiments 3 and 4, in addition to the numerosity judgment task, observers performed an attention-demanding task at fixation. Task difficulty influenced observers' precision in the numerosity judgment task, but the underestimation effect remained evident irrespective of task difficulty. These results suggest that identical or similar visual objects presented in succession might induce substitution among themselves, leading to an illusion that there are few items overall and that exploiting attentional resources does not eliminate the underestimation effect.


attentional load; dynamic presentation; numerosity; same-color objects

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