Visual field asymmetries in numerosity processing

Ramakrishna Chakravarthi* (Corresponding Author), Danai Papadaki, Jan Krajnik

*Corresponding author for this work

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A small number of objects can be rapidly and accurately enumerated, whereas a larger number of objects can only be approximately enumerated. These subitizing and estimation abilities, respectively, are both spatial processes relying on extracting information across spatial locations. Nevertheless, whether and how these processes vary across visual field locations remains unknown. Here, we examined if enumeration displays asymmetries around the visual field. Experiment 1 tested small number (1-6) enumeration at cardinal and non-cardinal peripheral locations while manipulating the spacing among the objects. Experiment 2 examined enumeration at cardinal locations in more detail while minimising crowding. Both experiments demonstrated a Horizontal Vertical Asymmetry (HVA) where performance was better along the horizontal axis relative to the vertical. Experiment 1 found that this effect was modulated by spacing with stronger asymmetry at closer spacing. Experiment 2 revealed further asymmetries: a Vertical Meridian Asymmetry (VMA) with better enumeration on the lower vertical meridian than on the upper and a Horizontal Meridian Asymmetry (HMA) with better enumeration along the left horizontal meridian than along the right.
All three asymmetries were evident for both subitizing and estimation. HVA and VMA have been observed in a range of visual tasks, indicating that they might be inherited from early visual constraints. However, HMA is observed primarily in mid-level tasks, often involving attention. These results suggest that while enumeration processes can be argued to inherit low-level visual constraints, the findings are, parsimoniously, consistent with visual attention playing a role in both subitizing and estimation.
Humans can rapidly enumerate the number of objects in the visual world. This enumeration process is intimately connected to important visual and cognitive processes such as object recognition and development of mathematical abilities. Although enumeration is primarily a spatial process, we do not know how it varies across the visual field. In this study, we discovered that enumeration is better along the lower and left axes compared to upper and right axes, respectively; it is also better on the horizontal axis than the vertical. These efficiency differences likely derive from early visual processing constraints in conjunction with visual attention.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2607-2622
Number of pages16
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number8
Early online date18 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2022


  • subitizing
  • estimation
  • enumeration
  • crowding
  • visual field asymmetry
  • attention


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