Two's company, three's a crowd: Individuation is necessary for object recognition

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Object recognition is essential for navigating the real world. Despite decades of research on this topic, the processing steps necessary for recognition remain unclear. In this study, we examined the necessity and role of individuation, the ability to select a small number of spatially distinct objects irrespective of their identity, in the recognition process. More specifically, we tested if the ability to rapidly individuate and enumerate a small number of objects (subitizing) can be impaired by crowding. Crowding is flanker-induced interference that specifically impedes the recognition process. We found that subitizing is impaired when objects are close to each other (Experiment 1), and if the target objects are surrounded by irrelevant but perceptually similar flankers (Experiments 2–4). This impairment cannot be attributed to confusion between targets and flankers, wherein flankers are inadvertently included in or targets are excluded from enumeration (Experiments 3–4). Importantly, the flanker induced interference was comparable in both subitizing and crowding tasks (Experiment 4), suggesting that individuation and identification share a common processing pathway. We conclude that individuation is an essential stage in the object recognition pipeline and argue for a cohesive proposal that both crowding and subitizing are due to limitations of selective attention.




Chakravarthi, R., & Herbert, A. (2019). Two’s company, three’s a crowd: Individuation is necessary for object recognition. Cognition, 184, 69–82.

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