Three-systems for visual numerosity: A single case study

G. Anobile, F. Tomaiuolo, S. Campana, G. M. Cicchini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Humans possess the remarkable capacity to assess the numerosity of a set of items over a wide range of conditions, from a handful of items to hundreds of them. Recent evidence is starting to show that judgments over such a large range is possible because of the presence of three mechanisms, each tailored to specific stimulation conditions. Previous evidence in favour of this theory comes from the fact that discrimination thresholds and estimation reaction times are not constants across numerosity levels. Likewise, attention is capable of dissociating the three mechanisms: when healthy adult observers are asked to perform concurrently a taxing task, the judgments of low numerosities (<4 dots) or of high numerosities is affected greatly, not so however for intermediate numerosities. Here we bring evidence from a neuropsychological perspective. To this end we measured perceptual performance in PA, a 41 year-old patient who suffers simultanagnosia after a hypoxic brain injury. PA showed a profound deficit in attentively tracking objects over space and time (multiple object tracking), even in very simple conditions where controls made no errors. PA also showed a massive deficit on sensory thresholds when comparing dot-arrays containing extremely low (3 dots) or extremely high (64, 128 dots) numerosities as well as in comparing dot-distances. Surprisingly, PA discrimination thresholds were relatively spared for intermediate numerosity (12 and 16 dots). Overall his deficit on the numerosity task results in a U-shape function across numerosity which, combined with the attentional deficit and the inability to judge dot-distances, confirms previously suggested three-systems for numerosity judgments.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107259
Publication statusPublished - Nov 11 2019


  • Approximate number system
  • Density perception
  • Numerical cognition
  • Numerosity perception
  • Simultanagnosia
  • Subitizing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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