Do the magnocellular and parvocellular visual pathways contribute differentially to subitizing and counting?

Tony J. Simon, Scott Peterson, Gargi Patel, K. Sathian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


We investigated the neurobiological basis of visual processes involved in object enumeration. Subitizing, the ability to rapidly and accurately enumerate four or fewer objects, is thought to depend on preattentive processing of visual stimuli, whereas counting of more numerous objects is thought to require serial shifts of attention. We attempted to distinguish between the hypothesis that the magnocellular (M) visual pathway is the preferential route for subitizing, and the alternative hypothesis that there is no selectivity for the M pathway or its counterpart, the parvocellular (P) visual pathway, in visual object enumeration. Green rectangles were presented on an equiluminant red background to impair M pathway processing. This slowed enumeration performance relative to a control condition in which object/background luminance differed, especially when the rectangles were relatively large and widely spaced and had constant retinal eccentricity. When low luminance contrast was used to impair processing along the P pathway, enumeration performance was slowed relative to a high-contrast control condition, especially when the rectangles were small and closely spaced. Overall, our manipulations affected enumeration performance without selectivity for subitizing or counting ranges and without altering the slope of the functions relating reaction time to numerosity. Thus, our results favor the hypothesis that visual enumeration does not depend preferentially on either the M or the P pathway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)451-464
Number of pages14
JournalPerception and Psychophysics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 1998

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Sensory Systems
  • General Psychology


Dive into the research topics of 'Do the magnocellular and parvocellular visual pathways contribute differentially to subitizing and counting?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this