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Evaluation of a 'bias-free' measure of awareness

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image of Spatial Vision
For more content, see Multisensory Research and Seeing and Perceiving.

The derivation of a reliable, subjective measure of awareness that is not contaminated by observers' response bias is a problem that has long occupied researchers. Kunimoto et al. (2001) proposed a measure of awareness (a′) which apparently meets this criterion: a′ is derived from confidence ratings and is based on the intuition that confidence should reflect awareness. The aim of this paper is to explore the validity of this measure. Some calculations suggested that, contrary to Kunimoto et al.'s intention, a′ can vary as a result of changes in response bias affecting the relative proportions of high- and low-confidence responses. This was not evident in the results of Kunimoto et al.'s original experiments because their method may have artificially 'clamped' observers' response bias close to zero. A predicted consequence of allowing response bias to vary freely is that it can result in a′ varying from negative, through zero, to positive values, for a given value of discriminability (d′). We tested whether such variations are likely to occur in practice by employing Kunimoto et al.'s paradigm with various modifications, notably the removal of constraints upon the proportions of low- and high-confidence responses, in a visual discrimination task. As predicted, a′ varied with response bias in all participants. Similar results were found when a′ was calculated from pre-existing data obtained from a patient with blindsight: a′ varied through a range of positive results without approaching zero, which is inconsistent with his well-documented lack of awareness. A second experiment showed how response bias could be manipulated to yield elevated values of a′. On the basis of these findings we conclude that Kunimoto's measure is not as impervious to response bias as was originally assumed.


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