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06-11-2019 | Original Article | Uitgave 2/2021

Psychological Research 2/2021

Small numerosity advantage for sequential enumeration on RSVP stimuli: an object individuation-based account

Psychological Research > Uitgave 2/2021
Xiaorong Cheng, Chunyan Lin, Chunmiao Lou, Weiwei Zhang, Yaqian Han, Xianfeng Ding, Zhao Fan
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The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s00426-019-01264-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
Xiaorong Cheng, Chunyan Lin and Chunmiao Lou are co-first authors.

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Although there is a large literature demonstrating rapid and accurate enumeration of small sets of simultaneously presented items (i.e., subitizing), it is unclear whether this small numerosity advantage (SNA) can also manifest in sequential enumeration. The present study thus has two aims: to establish a robust processing advantage for small numerosities during sequential enumeration using a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) paradigm, and to examine the underlying mechanism for a SNA in sequential enumeration. The results indicate that a small set of items presented in fast sequences can be enumerated accurately with a high precision and a SOA (stimulus onset asynchrony)-sensitive capacity limit, essentially generalizing the large literature on small numerosity advantage from spatial domain to temporal domain. A resource competition hypothesis was proposed and confirmed in further experiments. Specifically, sequential enumeration and other cognitive process, such as visual working memory (VWM), compete for a shared resource of object individuation by which items are segregated as individual entities. These results implied that the limited resource of object individuation can be allocated within time windows of flexible temporal scales during simultaneous and sequential enumerations. Taken together, the present study calls for attention to the dynamic aspect of the enumeration process and highlights the pivotal role of object individuation in underlying a wide range of mental operations, such as enumeration and VWM.

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