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Span J Psychol. 2017 Jun 5;20:E27. doi: 10.1017/sjp.2017.23.

Possible Associations between Subitizing, Estimation and Visuospatial Working Memory (VSWM) in Children.

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Universidad de Buenos Aires (Argentina).
CONICET (Argentina).


Researchers have focused on identifying the mechanisms involved in subitizing and its differences with estimation. Some suggest that subitizing relies on a visual indexing system in charge of the simultaneous individuation of objects that is also used by visuospatial working memory (VSWM). In adults, studies found associations between subitizing and VSWM, in the absence of correlation between VSWM and estimation. The present study analyzed the performance of 120 4 and 6-year-old children in three tasks: dot enumeration to measure subitizing capacity, quantity discrimination for estimation, and Corsi Block-tapping task for VSWM. In the enumeration task RTs (F(9, 1062)=720.59, MSE=734394, p<.001, η2=.86) and errors (F(9, 1062)=42.15, MSE=.194, p<.001, η2=.26.) increased with the array, but this growth was statistically significant only from 4 dots onward. Each subject's subitizing range was estimated by fitting RTs with a sigmoid function of number of dots and obtaining the bend point of the curve. Data fit (age 4: R 2 = .88; SD = .08; age 6: R 2 = .91, SD = .08) showed a mean subitizing range of 2.79 (SD = .66) for 4 year-olds and of 3.11 (SD = .64) for 6 year-olds. Subitizing ranges and average RTs showed low association with storage (r = .274; p < .05; r = -.398; p < .001) and average RTs with concurrent processing (r = -.412; p < .001) in VSWM. Subitizing range and speed showed no association with estimation speed and a poor association with accuracy (r = .234, p < .01; r = -.398, p < .001), which suggests independent systems for small and large quantities. Subitizing and estimation measures correlated with VSWM (p < .01), which suggests that both processes may require VSWM resources.


children; enumeration; estimation; subitizing; visuospatial working memory

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