The one-is-more illusion: Sets of discrete objects appear less extended than equivalent continuous entities in both space and time

Cognition. 2019 Apr:185:121-130. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2018.10.002. Epub 2019 Jan 22.


We distinguish between discrete objects and continuous entities in categorization and language, but might we actually see such stimuli differently? Here we report the one-is-more illusion, wherein 'objecthood' changes what we perceive in an unexpected way. Across many variations and tasks, observers perceived a single continuous object (e.g. a rectangle) as longer than an equated set of multiple discrete objects (e.g. two shorter rectangles separated by a gap). This illusion is phenomenologically compelling, exceptionally reliable, and it extends beyond space, to time: a single continuous tone is perceived to last longer than an equated set of multiple discrete tones. Previous work has emphasized the importance of objecthood for processes such as attention and visual working memory, but these results typically require careful analyses of subtle effects. In contrast, we provide striking demonstrations of how perceived objecthood changes the perception of other properties in a way that you can readily see (and hear!) with your own eyes (and ears!).

Keywords: Object-based attention; Segmentation; Spatial perception; Time perception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Illusions / physiology*
  • Optical Illusions / physiology
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Time Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult