The Second Number-Estimation Elbow: Are Visual Numbers Greater Than 20 Evaluated Differently?

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Attention, Perception, And Psychophysics


Numerosity perception has long been understood to be divided between subitizing and estimation. In a series of three experiments (total N = 113), a new number “elbow” point in the estimation of visual number for numerosities of about 20 dots is confirmed. Below 20, mean estimates are linear with a slope of about 1 and power-function exponents for numerosity estimation approximate unity, though estimate variance increases dramatically above about 6 elements. For numerosities above 20, estimates become increasingly compressed, such that power function exponents are much lower (e.g., 0.7) and are lower still when both ranges are estimated within the same experimental procedure. The experiments described here show that the location of the inflection point appears insensitive to the range of numbers estimated and to differences in density.


Visual number, Magnitude estimation, Texture, Numerosity