Cross-modal attention modulates tactile subitizing but not tactile numerosity estimation

Atten Percept Psychophys. 2018 Jul;80(5):1229-1239. doi: 10.3758/s13414-018-1507-x.


Debate remains about whether the same attentional mechanism subserves subitizing (with number of items less than or equal to 4) and numerosity estimation (with number of items equal to or larger than 5), and evidence is scarce from the tactile modality. Here, we examined tactile numerosity perception. Using tactile Braille displays, participants completed the following three main tasks: (1) Unisensory task with focused attention: Participants reported the number (1~12) of the tactile pins. (2) Unisensory task with divided attention: Participants compared the numbers of pins across the upper and lower area of their left index fingers, in addition to reporting the number of tactile pins on their right index fingers. (3) Cross-modal task with divided attention: Participants reported the number of tactile pins and compared the numbers of visual dots across the upper and lower part of a (illusory) rectangle that overlaid the tactile stimuli. We found that performance of subitizing rather than estimation was interfered with in dual tasks, regardless of whether distractor events were from the same modality (tactile modality) or from a different modality (visual modality). Moreover, a further test of visual/tactile working memory capacity revealed that the precision of tactile subitizing, in the presence of a visual distractor, was correlated with the capacity of visual working memory, not of tactile working memory. Overall, our study revealed that tactile numerosity perception is accounted for by amodal attentional modulation yet by differential attentional mechanisms in terms of subitizing and estimation.

Keywords: Attention; Touch; Working Memory.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Touch / physiology
  • Touch Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult