How many objects can you track? Evidence for a resource-limited attentive tracking mechanism

George A. Alvarez*, Steven L. Franconeri

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

283 Scopus citations


Much of our interaction with the visual world requires us to isolate some currently important objects from other less important objects. This task becomes more difficult when objects move, or when our field of view moves relative to the world, requiring us to track these objects over space and time. Previous experiments have shown that observers can track a maximum of about 4 moving objects. A natural explanation for this capacity limit is that the visual system is architecturally limited to handling a fixed number of objects at once, a so-called magical number 4 on visual attention. In contrast to this view, Experiment 1 shows that tracking capacity is not fixed. At slow speeds it is possible to track up to 8 objects, and yet there are fast speeds at which only a single object can be tracked. Experiment 2 suggests, that that the limit on tracking is related to the spatial resolution of attention. These findings suggest that the number of objects that can be tracked is primarily set by a flexibly allocated resource, which has important implications for the mechanisms of object tracking and for the relationship between object tracking and other cognitive processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number14
JournalJournal of Vision
Issue number13
StatePublished - Oct 30 2007


  • Attention
  • Attentive tracking
  • Capacity
  • FLEX
  • MOT
  • Multi-element tracking
  • Multiple object tracking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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