Both humans and nonhuman animals can exhibit sensitivity to the approximate number of items in a visual array or events in a sequence, and across various paradigms, uncertainty in numerosity judgments increases with the number estimated or produced. The pattern of increase is usually described as exhibiting approximate adherence to Weber’s law, such that uncertainty increases proportionally to the mean estimate, resulting in a constant coefficient of variation. Such a pattern has been proposed to be a signature characteristic of an innate “number sense.” We reexamine published behavioral data from two studies that have been cited as prototypical evidence of adherence to Weber’s law and observe that in both cases variability increases less than this account would predict, as indicated by a decreasing coefficient of variation with an increase in number. We also consider evidence from numerosity discrimination studies that show deviations from the constant coefficient of variation pattern. Though behavioral data can sometimes exhibit approximate adherence to Weber’s law, our findings suggest that such adherence is not a fixed characteristic of the mechanisms whereby humans and animals estimate numerosity. We suggest instead that the observed pattern of increase in variability with number depends on the circumstances of the task and stimuli, and reflects an adaptive ensemble of mechanisms composed to optimize performance under these circumstances.

Do estimates of numerosity really adhere to Weber’s law? A reexamination of two case studies

Testolin A.
;
2020

Abstract

Both humans and nonhuman animals can exhibit sensitivity to the approximate number of items in a visual array or events in a sequence, and across various paradigms, uncertainty in numerosity judgments increases with the number estimated or produced. The pattern of increase is usually described as exhibiting approximate adherence to Weber’s law, such that uncertainty increases proportionally to the mean estimate, resulting in a constant coefficient of variation. Such a pattern has been proposed to be a signature characteristic of an innate “number sense.” We reexamine published behavioral data from two studies that have been cited as prototypical evidence of adherence to Weber’s law and observe that in both cases variability increases less than this account would predict, as indicated by a decreasing coefficient of variation with an increase in number. We also consider evidence from numerosity discrimination studies that show deviations from the constant coefficient of variation pattern. Though behavioral data can sometimes exhibit approximate adherence to Weber’s law, our findings suggest that such adherence is not a fixed characteristic of the mechanisms whereby humans and animals estimate numerosity. We suggest instead that the observed pattern of increase in variability with number depends on the circumstances of the task and stimuli, and reflects an adaptive ensemble of mechanisms composed to optimize performance under these circumstances.
File in questo prodotto:
File Dimensione Formato  
Testolin-McClelland2020_Article_DoEstimatesOfNumerosityReallyA.pdf

accesso aperto

Tipologia: Published (publisher's version)
Licenza: Creative commons
Dimensione 1.41 MB
Formato Adobe PDF
1.41 MB Adobe PDF Visualizza/Apri
Pubblicazioni consigliate

I documenti in IRIS sono protetti da copyright e tutti i diritti sono riservati, salvo diversa indicazione.

Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11577/3355879
Citazioni
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.pmc??? ND
  • Scopus 10
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.isi??? 11
social impact