Simultaneous and sequential subitizing are separate systems, and neither predicts math abilities

Giovanni Anobile, Roberto Arrighi, David C. Burr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Small quantities of visual objects can be rapidly estimated without error, a phenomenon known as subitizing. Larger quantities can also be rapidly estimated, but with error, and the error rate predicts math abilities. This study addressed two issues: (a) whether subitizing generalizes over modalities and stimulus formats and (b) whether subitizing correlates with math abilities. We measured subitizing limits in primary school children and adults for visual and auditory stimuli presented either sequentially (sequences of flashes or sounds) or simultaneously (visual presentations, dot arrays). The results show that (a) subitizing limits for adults were one item larger than those for primary school children across all conditions; (b) subitizing for simultaneous visual stimuli (dots) was better than that for sequential stimuli; (c) subitizing limits for dots do not correlate with subitizing limits for either flashes or sounds; (d) subitizing of sequences of flashes and subitizing of sequences of sounds are strongly correlated with each other in children; and (e) regardless of stimuli sensory modality and format, subitizing limits do not correlate with mental calculation or digit magnitude knowledge proficiency. These results suggest that although children can subitize sequential numerosity, simultaneous and temporal subitizing may be subserved by separate systems. Furthermore, subitizing does not seem to be related to numerical abilities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-103
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Volume178
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 26 2018

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Keywords

  • Approximate number system
  • Cross-modal perception
  • Dyscalculia
  • Numerical cognition
  • Numerosity
  • Subitizing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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