Comparing performance in discrete and continuous comparison tasks

Tali Leibovich, Avishai Henik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


The approximate number system (ANS) theory suggests that all magnitudes, discrete (i.e., number of items) or continuous (i.e., size, density, etc.), are processed by a shared system and comply with Weber's law. The current study reexamined this notion by comparing performance in discrete (comparing numerosities of dot arrays) and continuous (comparisons of area of squares) tasks. We found that: (a) threshold of discrimination was higher for continuous than for discrete comparisons; (b) while performance in the discrete task complied with Weber's law, performance in the continuous task violated it; and (c) performance in the discrete task was influenced by continuous properties (e.g., dot density, dot cumulative area) of the dot array that were not predictive of numerosities or task relevant. Therefore, we propose that the magnitude processing system (MPS) is actually divided into separate (yet interactive) systems for discrete and continuous magnitude processing. Further subdivisions are discussed. We argue that cooperation between these systems results in a holistic comparison of magnitudes, one that takes into account continuous properties in addition to numerosities. Considering the MPS as two systems opens the door to new and important questions that shed light on both normal and impaired development of the numerical system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)899-917
Number of pages19
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Approximate number system
  • Continuous magnitudes
  • Numerical cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology (all)
  • Physiology (medical)


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