Ensemble Perception of Size in 4-5-year-old Children

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College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences, Psychology


Ensemble‐coding mechanisms, Children, Visual perception


Groups of objects are nearly everywhere we look. Adults can perceive and understand the ‘gist’ of multiple objects at once, engaging ensemble‐coding mechanisms that summarize a group's overall appearance. Are these group‐perception mechanisms in place early in childhood? Here, we provide the first evidence that 4–5‐year‐old children use ensemble coding to perceive the average size of a group of objects. Children viewed a pair of trees, with each containing a group of differently sized oranges. We found that, in order to determine which tree had the larger oranges overall, children integrated the sizes of multiple oranges into ensemble representations. This pooling occurred rapidly, and it occurred despite conflicting information from numerosity, continuous extent, density, and contrast. An ideal observer analysis showed that although children's integration mechanisms are sensitive, they are not yet as efficient as adults’. Overall, our results provide a new insight into the way children see and understand the environment, and they illustrate the fundamental nature of ensemble coding in visual perception.

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