Adaptation to number operates on perceived rather than physical numerosity, Cognition, (151), 63-67.

Humans share with many animals a number sense, the ability to estimate rapidly the approximate number of items in a scene. Recent work has shown that like many other perceptual attributes, numerosity is susceptible to adaptation. It is not clear, however, whether adaptation works directly on mechanisms selective to numerosity, or via related mechanisms, such as those tuned to texture density. To disentangle this issue we measured adaptation of numerosity of 10 pairs of connected dots, as connecting dots makes them appear to be less numerous than unconnected dots. Adaptation to a 20-dot pattern (same number of dots as the test) caused robust reduction in apparent numerosity of the connected-dot pattern, but not of the unconnected dot-pattern. This suggests that adaptation to numerosity, at least for relatively sparse dot-pattern, occurs at neural levels encoding perceived numerosity, rather than at lower levels responding to the number of elements in the scene.

Central tendency effects in time interval reproduction in autism, Sci Rep, (6), 28570.

Central tendency, the tendency of judgements of quantities (lengths, durations etc.) to gravitate towards their mean, is one of the most robust perceptual effects. A Bayesian account has recently suggested that central tendency reflects the integration of noisy sensory estimates with prior knowledge representations of a mean stimulus, serving to improve performance. The process is flexible, so prior knowledge is weighted more heavily when sensory estimates are imprecise, requiring more integration to reduce noise. In this study we measure central tendency in autism to evaluate a recent theoretical hypothesis suggesting that autistic perception relies less on prior knowledge representations than typical perception. If true, autistic children should show reduced central tendency than theoretically predicted from their temporal resolution. We tested autistic and age- and ability-matched typical children in two child-friendly tasks: (1) a time interval reproduction task, measuring central tendency in the temporal domain; and (2) a time discrimination task, assessing temporal resolution. Central tendency reduced with age in typical development, while temporal resolution improved. Autistic children performed far worse in temporal discrimination than the matched controls. Computational simulations suggested that central tendency was much less in autistic children than predicted by theoretical modelling, given their poor temporal resolution.

Spontaneous perception of numerosity in humans, Nat Commun, (7), 12536.

Humans, including infants, and many other species have a capacity for rapid, nonverbal estimation of numerosity. However, the mechanisms for number perception are still not clear; some maintain that the system calculates numerosity via density estimates-similar to those involved in texture-while others maintain that more direct, dedicated mechanisms are involved. Here we show that provided that items are not packed too densely, human subjects are far more sensitive to numerosity than to either density or area. In a two-dimensional space spanning density, area and numerosity, subjects spontaneously react with far greater sensitivity to changes in numerosity, than either area or density. Even in tasks where they were explicitly instructed to make density or area judgments, they responded spontaneously to number. We conclude, that humans extract number information, directly and spontaneously, via dedicated mechanisms.