The Effect of Clustering on Perceived Quantity in Humans (Homo sapiens) and in Chicks (Gallus gallus)

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Abstract

Animals can perceive the numerosity of sets of visual elements. Qualitative and quantitative similarities in different species suggest the existence of a shared system (approximate number system). Biases associated with sensory properties are informative about the underlying mechanisms. In humans, regular spacing increases perceived numerosity (regular-random numerosity illusion). This has led to a model that predicts numerosity based on occupancy (a measure that decreases when elements are close together). We used a procedure in which observers selected one of two stimuli and were given feedback with respect to whether the choice was correct. One configuration had 20 elements and the other 40, randomly placed inside a circular region. Participants had to discover the rule based on feedback. Because density and clustering covaried with numerosity, different dimensions could be used. After reaching a criterion, test trials presented two types of configurations with 30 elements. One type had a larger interelement distance than the other (high or low clustering). If observers had adopted a numerosity strategy, they would choose low clustering (if reinforced with 40) and high clustering (if reinforced with 20). A clustering or density strategy predicts the opposite. Human adults used a numerosity strategy. Chicks were tested using a similar procedure. There were two behavioral measures: first approach response and final circumnavigation (walking behind the screen). The prediction based on numerosity was confirmed by the first approach data. For chicks, one clear pattern from both responses was a preference for the configurations with higher clustering.

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