If it looks, sounds, or feels like subitizing, is it subitizing? A modulated definition of subitizing

  • Naama Katzin
  • Zahira Ziva Cohen
  • Avishai Henik
Theoretical Review


Research in cognitive psychology has focused mainly on the visual modality as the input interface for mental processes. We suggest that integrating studies from different modalities can aid in resolving theoretical controversies. We demonstrate this in the case of subitizing. Subitizing, the quick and accurate enumeration of small quantities, has been studied since the 19th century. Nevertheless, to date, the underlying mechanism is still debated. Two mechanisms have been suggested: a domain-general mechanism—attention, and a domain-specific mechanism—pattern recognition. Here, we review pivotal studies in the visual, tactile, and auditory modalities. The accumulative findings shed light on the theoretical debate. Accordingly, we suggest that subitizing is a subprocess of counting that occurs in the presence of facilitating factors, such as attentional resources and familiar patterns.


Subitizing Pattern recognition FINST theory Multimodal 



This work was supported by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC Grant Agreement No. 295664 awarded to Avishai Henik, and by the Israel Science Foundation (Grant 1799/12) in the framework of their Centers of Excellence. Special thanks are given to Desiree Meloul for her professional and generous help.


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Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Naama Katzin
    • 1
    • 2
  • Zahira Ziva Cohen
    • 1
  • Avishai Henik
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyBen-Gurion University of the NegevBeer-ShevaIsrael
  2. 2.Zlotowski Center for NeuroscienceBen-Gurion University of the NegevBeer-ShevaIsrael

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