One to four, and nothing more: Nonconscious parallel individuation of objects during action planning Academic Article uri icon


  • Much of the current understanding about the capacity limits on the number of objects that can be simultaneously processed comes from studies of visual short-term memory, attention, and numerical cognition. Consistent reports suggest that, despite large variability in the perceptual tasks administered (e.g., object tracking, counting), a limit of three to four visual items can be independently processed in parallel. In the research reported here, we asked whether this limit also extends to the domain of action planning. Using a unique rapid visuomotor task and a novel analysis of reach trajectories, we demonstrated an upper limit to the number of targets that can be simultaneously encoded for action, a capacity limit that also turns out to be no more than three to four. Our findings suggest that conscious perceptual processing and nonconscious movement planning are constrained by a common underlying mechanism limited by the number of items that can be simultaneously represented.


  • Gallivan, JP
  • Chapman, CS
  • Wood, DK
  • Milne, JL
  • Ansari, D
  • Culham, JC
  • Goodale, MA

publication date

  • 2011