Michael J. Beran, Ph.D.
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Last updated: 
September 1, 2021

 

 

Beran, M. J., Taglialatela, L. B., Flemming, T. M., James, F. M., & Washburn, D. A. (2006). Nonverbal estimation during numerosity judgments by adult humans. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 59, 2065-2082.

On an automated task, humans selected the larger of two sets of items, each created through the one-by-one addition of items. Participants repeated the alphabet out loud during trials so that they could not count the items. This manipulation disrupted counting without producing major effects on other cognitive capacities such as memory or attention, and performance of this experimental group was poorer compared to participants who counted the items. In Experiment 2, the size of individual items was varied and performance remained stable when the larger numerical set contained a smaller total amount compared to the smaller numerical set (i.e., participants used numerical rather than non-numerical quantity cues in making judgments). In Experiment 3, reports of the number of items in a single set showed scalar variability as accuracy decreased and variability in responses increased with increases in true set size. These data indicate a mechanism for the approximate representation of numerosity in adult humans that might be shared with nonhuman animals.

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