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A comparison of fixed-step-size and Bayesian staircases for sensory threshold estimation

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For more content, see Multisensory Research and Seeing and Perceiving.

Fixed-step-size (FSS) and Bayesian staircases are widely used methods to estimate sensory thresholds in 2AFC tasks, although a direct comparison of both types of procedure under identical conditions has not previously been reported. A simulation study and an empirical test were conducted to compare the performance of optimized Bayesian staircases with that of four optimized variants of FSS staircase differing as to up–down rule. The ultimate goal was to determine whether FSS or Bayesian staircases are the best choice in experimental psychophysics. The comparison considered the properties of the estimates (i.e. bias and standard errors) in relation to their cost (i.e. the number of trials to completion). The simulation study showed that mean estimates of Bayesian and FSS staircases are dependable when sufficient trials are given and that, in both cases, the standard deviation (SD) of the estimates decreases with number of trials, although the SD of Bayesian estimates is always lower than that of FSS estimates (and thus, Bayesian staircases are more efficient). The empirical test did not support these conclusions, as (1) neither procedure rendered estimates converging on some value, (2) standard deviations did not follow the expected pattern of decrease with number of trials, and (3) both procedures appeared to be equally efficient. Potential factors explaining the discrepancies between simulation and empirical results are commented upon and, all things considered, a sensible recommendation is for psychophysicists to run no fewer than 18 and no more than 30 reversals of an FSS staircase implementing the 1-up/3-down rule.

Affiliations: 1: Departamento de Metodología, Facultad de Psicología, Universidad Complutense, Campus de Somosaguas, 28223 Madrid, Spain

10.1163/156856807780421174
/content/journals/10.1163/156856807780421174
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/content/journals/10.1163/156856807780421174
2007-03-01
2016-12-04

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