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Frank Jäkel, Felix A. Wichmann; Spatial four-alternative forced-choice method is the preferred psychophysical method for naïve observers. Journal of Vision 2006;6(11):13. doi: https://doi.org/10.1167/6.11.13.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
H. R. Blackwell (1952) investigated the influence of different psychophysical methods and procedures on detection thresholds. He found that the temporal two-interval forced-choice method (2-IFC) combined with feedback, blocked constant stimulus presentation with few different stimulus intensities, and highly trained observers resulted in the “best” threshold estimates. This recommendation is in current practice in many psychophysical laboratories and has entered the psychophysicists' “folk wisdom” of how to run proper psychophysical experiments. However, Blackwell's recommendations explicitly require experienced observers, whereas many psychophysical studies, particularly with children or within a clinical setting, are performed with naïve observers. In a series of psychophysical experiments, we find a striking and consistent discrepancy between naïve observers' behavior and that reported for experienced observers by Blackwell: Naïve observers show the “best” threshold estimates for the spatial four-alternative forced-choice method (4-AFC) and the worst for the commonly employed temporal 2-IFC. We repeated our study with a highly experienced psychophysical observer, and he replicated Blackwell's findings exactly, thus suggesting that it is indeed the difference in psychophysical experience that causes the discrepancy between our findings and those of Blackwell. In addition, we explore the efficiency of different methods and show 4-AFC to be more than 3.5 times more efficient than 2-IFC under realistic conditions. While we have found that 4-AFC consistently gives lower thresholds than 2-IFC in detection tasks, we have found the opposite for discrimination tasks. This discrepancy suggests that there are large extrasensory influences on thresholds—sensory memory for IFC methods and spatial attention for spatial forced-choice methods—that are critical but, alas, not part of theoretical approaches to psychophysics such as signal detection theory.
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