Say you had three eggs on the table, by simply looking at them you can tell that there are three eggs (without counting one, two, three etc...). My question is, how many eggs or any other objects does there have to be until you have to start counting them?
We put this to Dr Roy Allen, School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen:
He’s talking about subitising and subitising is our apparent ability to instantly apprehend the quantity of a small group of objects without needing to consciously count each one individually. Unfortunately this is a research topic which has quite a heated debate about it. A lot of people argue that subitising as such doesn’t exist at all and that really is some form of fast counting which is conscious. It’s very difficult to research into subitising simply because you have to eliminate conscious counting. The only way to do that is to present stimuli very quickly, very short periods of time. Something like 50ms and then ask people to give their impression of the quantity of objects that they actually see. This particular person’s question is quite difficult to answer because as long as the objects are present for a long length of time there’s always the possibility that they might also be counting as well as subitising. The answer to the question is probably 3 or 4 in the true sense of subitising. We probably do this by some form of pattern recognition. There’s some correlation between quantity and particular shape. For example, a triangle – three objects is always a triangle or almost invariably a triangle; two objects always form the ends of a straight line.
Round about seven seems to be my after that I have to start counting them. syhprum, Tue, 20th Jan 2009
I have a suspicion the answer may be akin to how many quanta of information can be stored in short term memory. Most people can remember 7 items, numbers, letters, etc. However, items can be aggregated so that it appears we can store more.
I went to a kindergarden and asked the kids to count pens, I noticed that nearly every time they took three pens at once by just looking. For example, if I said that I wanted 12 pens, they'll take three, then another three, then another three etc... Obviously the number will change as we get older but I presume that for kids it will be around 3-4. Chemistry4me, Tue, 20th Jan 2009
The other method would be how many are recognisable in a line. If you can recognise 7 for example, then it follows that you can recognise 7 X 7, and therefore "know" that there are 49 without counting. It's a question of the spatial distribution of the items that need counting. dentstudent, Wed, 21st Jan 2009
Is it just that with small numbers of objects you could them so quickly that you don't notice yourself doing it; larger numbers of objects take longer to count and hence are more likely to reach consciousness?
I wonder if there's a tie in with learning to count in the first place? You can't instinctively know that there are 6 items until you have learned to count to six, so even if you can instinctively know the size of a small group, must you go through the process of mentally marking how many according to the numbers you have learned, in other words, counting them? BRValsler, Wed, 21st Jan 2009
But I can see that you would need to know how many hands you were holding up. But then you can also learn that (most) people have 2 hands....
i have the answer
Sorry, what was that? You have the answer? I don't think you've understood the question raghavendra Chemistry4me, Wed, 21st Jan 2009
http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/antenna/neurobotics/smart/115.asp RD, Sat, 24th Jan 2009
I got 2 spot on (no pun intended) & a total of 5 within 5 which, apparently, makes me better than anyone in the experiment. DoctorBeaver, Sat, 24th Jan 2009
You're in savant league Dr B...
Either I'm getting in touch with my inner savant ...
Yes, that was quite tricky! Chemistry4me, Sun, 25th Jan 2009
How? You took photos and then went back and counted them?
Come on! Spill the beans! Chemistry4me, Sun, 25th Jan 2009
many birds seem to possess such a number sense, too.
I would have thought your guesses would get better DoctorBeaver, Tue, 27th Jan 2009
Well...um... Chemistry4me, Tue, 27th Jan 2009
hey guys...i listened to the podcast where i gathered our brains take apart various sections of the items in the form of shapes like triangles, and we attempt to count them from there.
They probably would have had more time that 50ms, so they can 'count' or do some multiplication/calculations, e.g 25 x 20 etc... Chemistry4me, Wed, 4th Feb 2009
~2 out of 5. erickejah, Fri, 13th Feb 2009
What is 2 out of five? Did you mean the test? Chemistry4me, Fri, 13th Feb 2009
Thanks for that wannabe
yepyep erickejah, Sun, 8th Mar 2009
Me being crosseyed?
get out of here
Genius Dot Test is a simple iPad application that tests your ability to quickly estimate large numbers of objects. It uses three different skill levels (the highest goes up to 1000 objects), and tracks your progress over time. It's on iTunes if you are interested: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/genius-dot-test/id988222365?mt=8 locksleyu, Wed, 6th May 2015