Effects of distraction on visual enumeration in children and adults

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Speeded enumeration of visual stimuli typically produces a bilinear function, with a shallow subitizing rate (/item) up to 3–4 items (subitizing span) and a steeper counting rate (~300 ms/item) thereafter. FINST theory (L. M. Trick & Z. W. Pylyshyn, 1993, 1994) suggests that subitizing of targets is possible in the presence of distractors if attention is not required for target detection, but this has not been tested in children. The present study explored enumeration without distractors (Os alone) and with distractors (Os among Xs) in 35 children aged 6–11 years and 17 adults. Subitizing span increased significantly from childhood to adulthood, and counting rate increased significantly with age. Bilinear functions were significantly better than linear fits to the data for most children and adults both without distractors (97% and 100%, respectively) and with distractors (89% and 94%), consistent with their efficient visual search for a single O among multiple Xs. These findings are discussed in comparison with those from new modeling of earlier enumeration data from young and older adults, revealing striking asymmetries in subitizing with distractors between development and aging.

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Journal Article

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