Student sizes vary depending on the number of objects you look at

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A compelling study found that students react the same to the number of objects in their field of vision as they do to light. The experiments revealed that the pupils dilate in response to images containing greater amounts of dots, indicating that number detection is an intrinsic perceptual mechanism.

Everyone knows that their pupil size varies depending on different lighting conditions. It is one of our most basic automatic sensory responses. And while luminance is the primary determinant of pupil size, there are many other stimuli that can influence pupillary responses, drugs, and hormones to arousal and attention.

“When we look around, we spontaneously perceive the shape, size, movement and color of a scene, says David Burr, co-author of the new study. “Likewise spontaneously, we perceive the number of elements in front of us. This ability, shared with most other animals, is fundamental to evolution: it immediately reveals significant amounts, such as the number of apples on the tree, or the number of enemies attacking.

This new study focused on the relationship between pupillary response and our seemingly hard-wired ability to sense numbers. A number of participants were instructed to passively look at several images containing a varying number of points.

“The participants passively observed arrays of black or white dots of matching physical luminance but of different physical or illusory number,” the researchers explain in the study. “In half of the patterns, pairs of dots were connected by lines to create dumbbell-like shapes, inducing an illusory underestimation of the perceived numbering; in the other half, the connectors have been moved or removed.

A graphical representation of the results of the study

Castaldi et al.

The results revealed that the pupils widened or dilated in response to a greater number of individual points. When images were displayed with fewer single dots, participants’ pupils quickly contracted. Elisa Castaldi, author of the new University of Florence study, says the findings demonstrate how deeply primary visual perception is linked to digital information. And this discovery could also lead to practical clinical applications for diagnosing digital cognition problems.

“For example, this ability is compromised in dyscalculia which is a dysfunction of mathematical learning, so our experience may be useful in the early identification of this condition in very young children,” says Castaldi. “It’s very simple: subjects are simply looking at a screen without making an active response, and their pupillary response is measured from a distance.”

The new study was published in the journal Nature Communication.

Source: University of Sydney


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