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Perceptual subitizing performance in 3- and 4-year-olds: The impact of visual features of sets

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

Perceptual subitizing is a pivotal skill in children’s mathematical development. It is defined as the rapid identification of small numerosities. Previous studies pointed to the contribution of visual features of sets to perceptual subitizing performance in adults. Insights into the contribution of visual features to subitizing performance in the critical 3- to 4-year age range are scant. This study aimed to address this gap by investigating the impact of visual features on perceptual subitizing performance (accuracy and response time) in 3- and 4-year-olds. Participants (119 3- and 4-year-olds) were offered a subitizing task that incorporated pictures of sets of three to five objects. The pictures systematically varied across four visual features: (a) pictorial context (distractors present vs. absent), (b) set homogeneity (homogeneous vs. heterogeneous objects), (c) set arrangement (linearly vs. randomly arranged objects), and (d) set differentiation (distinct vs. overlapping objects). Pictures with distractors, heterogeneous objects, randomly arranged objects, or overlapping objects were associated with lower subitizing accuracy and longer response times compared with pictures without distractors, homogeneous objects, linearly arranged objects, or distinct objects, respectively. Pictures with randomly arranged or overlapping objects along with distractors were associated with even lower subitizing accuracy. Pictures featuring a simple visual design—without distractors and with homogeneous, linearly arranged, and distinct sets—yielded the best subitizing performance in terms of accuracy and response time. Our findings might be explained by the cognitive processes underlying 3- and 4-year-olds’ subitizing performance. The findings offer building blocks for future research in the domain and preschool educational practice.
Journal: Journal of Experimental Child Psychology
ISSN: 0022-0965
Volume: 244
Publication year:2024