Recent Is More: A Negative Time-Order Effect in Nonsymbolic Numerical Judgment

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Humans as well as some nonhuman animals can estimate object numerosities—such as the number of sheep in a flock—without explicit counting. Here, we report on a negative time-order effect (TOE) in this type of judgment: When nonsymbolic numerical stimuli are presented sequentially, the second stimulus is overestimated compared to the first. We examined this “recent is more” effect in two comparative judgment tasks: larger–smaller discrimination and same–different discrimination. Ideal-observer modeling revealed evidence for a TOE in 88.2% of the individual data sets. Despite large individual differences in effect size, there was strong consistency in effect direction: 87.3% of the identified TOEs were negative. The average effect size was largely independent of task but did strongly depend on both stimulus magnitude and interstimulus interval. Finally, we used an estimation task to obtain insight into the origin of the effect. We found that subjects tend to overestimate both stimuli but the second one more strongly than the first one. Overall, our findings are highly consistent with findings from studies on TOEs in nonnumerical judgments, which suggests a common underlying mechanism.

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