Liu, W., Zheng, P., Huang, S., & Cicchini, G. M.

Subitizing, unlike estimation, does not process sets in parallel

Scientific Reports, 10(1), 15689

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-72860-4 Download

Enumeration of very small quantities is a common task that we perform everyday. Much research has highlighted that in these conditions humans display fast, near errorless performance, a phenomenon dubbed subitizing. It has been suggested that this regime has a pivotal role in numerosity perception. Here we asked if this system can process multiple sets of items in parallel. At odds with what happens for moderate numerosities, we found a strong impairment caused already by the introduction of a second group of items marked by a different color. Adding shape as a cue provided no benefit. The only case in which subitizing was possible was when the target and distractor group were held constant through the experimental block. These results show the surprising fact that whilst being rapid and errorless, subitizing does not have the capability to disentangle multiple groups of items and deals only with coarse stimulus statistics.