Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 698–707

Variability signatures distinguish verbal from nonverbal counting for both large and small numbers


  • Sara Cordes
    • University of California
    • Rutgers University
    • University of California
    • Rutgers University
  • C. R. Gallistel
    • University of California
    • Rutgers University
  • John Whalen
    • University of Delaware
Brief Reports

DOI: 10.3758/BF03196206

Cite this article as:
Cordes, S., Gelman, R., Gallistel, C.R. et al. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (2001) 8: 698. doi:10.3758/BF03196206


Humans appear to share with animals a nonverbal counting process. In a nonverbal counting condition, subjects pressed a key a numeral-specified number of times, while saying “the” at every press. The mean number of presses increased as a power function of the target number, with a constant coefficient of variation (c.v.), both within and beyond the proposed subitizing range (1–4 or 5), suggesting small numbers are represented on the same continuum as larger numbers and subject to the same noise process (scalar variability). By contrast, when subjects counted their presses out loud as fast as they could, the c.v. decreased as the inverse square root of the target value (binomial variability instead of scalar variability). The unexpected power-law relation between target value and mean number of presses in nonverbal counting suggests a new hypothesis about the development of the function relating number symbols to mental magnitudes.

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© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2001