Cicchini, G. M., Anobile, G., Burr, D. C., Marchesini, P., & Arrighi, R.
The role of non-numerical information in the perception of temporal numerosity.
Frontiers in Psychology, 14, 1197064.
Numerosity perception refers to the ability to make rapid but approximate estimates of the quantity of elements in a set (spatial numerosity) or presented sequentially (temporal numerosity). Whether numerosity is directly perceived or indirectly recomputed from non-numerical features is a highly debated issue. In the spatial domain, area and density have been suggested as the main parameters through which numerosity would be recomputed. In the temporal domain, stimuli duration and temporal frequency could be similarly exploited to retrieve numerosity. By adapting a psychophysical technique previously exploited in the spatial domain, we investigated whether temporal visual numerosity is directly perceived. Adult participants observed sequences of visual impulses sampled from a stimulus space spanning several levels of temporal frequency and duration (and hence numerosity), and then reproduced the sequence as accurately as possible via a series of keypresses. Crucially, participants were not asked to reproduce any particular property (such as number of impulses) but were free to choose any available cue (such as total duration, or temporal frequency). The results indicate that while the overall sequence duration was barely considered, numerosity and temporal frequency were both spontaneously used as the main cues to reproduce the sequences, with a slight but significant dominance of numerosity. Overall, the results are in line with previous literature suggesting that numerosity is directly encoded, even for temporal sequences, but a non-numerical feature (temporal frequency) is also used in reproducing sequences.