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Age Effects in Counting by Memory and Subitizing

Burkhart Fischer, Christine Gebhardt and Klaus Hartnegg

Center of Neuroscience, Optomotor Laboratory, University of Freiburg

Adult subjects can recognize correctly the number of briefly presented items. Up to 4 or 5 items can be "counted" simultaneously (subitizing). For larger numbers the response time and the error rate increase.

This study investigates the age development of subitizing and number counting by visual memory of 563 subjects 7 to 68 years old.

In 170 trials 1 to 9 items were presented at randomly selected positions in a 4x4 array at a 2,5 x 6cm display. To prevent scanning saccades for counting and force the subjects to use their memory the presentation time was reduced to 100ms. The subjects responded by key press to indicate how many items they had seen. The percentage of correct responses and the response time were recorded.

The data show an improvement lasting up to the age of 18 years. A decline occurred beyond the age of 35 years.

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