Untypical Contrast Normalization Explains the “Weak Outnumber Strong” Numerosity Illusion

Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 16 (2022)
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Abstract

Less salient, lower contrast disks appear to be more numerous than more salient, higher contrast disks when intermingled in equal numbers into the same display, but they are equal in perceived numerosity when segregated into different displays. Comparative judgements indicate that the apparent numerosity of the lower contrast disks is unaffected by being intermingled with high contrast disks, whereas the high contrast disks are reduced in numerosity by being intermingled with the low contrast ones. Here, we report that this illusion also occurs for absolute judgements of the numerosities of displays of from 20 to 80 disks. A model based on luminance-difference contrast normalization explains the illusory loss of high-contrast items along with veridical perception of the low-contrast ones. The model correctly predicts that perceived numerosity is linearly related to the square-root of the number of disks, with the extent of the illusion depending on an attentionally-weighted function of contrast and assimilation.

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