Grasso, P. A., Anobile, G., Arrighi, R., Burr, D. C., & Cicchini, G. M.

Numerosity perception is tuned to salient environmental features

IScience, 25(4), 104104

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.isci.2022.104104 Download

Numerosity perception is a key ability to guide behavior. However, current models propose that number units encode an abstract representation of numerosity regardless of the non-numerical attributes of the stimuli, suggesting rather coarse environmental tuning. Here we investigated whether numerosity systems spontaneously adapt to all visible items, or to subsets segregated by salient attributes such as color or pitch. We measured perceived numerosity after participants adapted to highly numerous stimuli with color either matched to or different from the test. Matched colors caused a 25% underestimation of numerosity, while different colors had virtually no effect. This was true both for physically different colors, and for the same colors perceived as different, via a color-assimilation illusion. A similar result occurred in the acoustic domain, where adaptation magnitude was halved when the adaptor and test differed in pitch. Taken together, our results support the idea that numerosity perception is selectively tuned to salient environmental attributes.