A general formula for computing maximum proportion correct scores in various psychophysical paradigms with arbitrary probability distributions of stimulus observations

Huanping Dai, Christophe Micheyl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Proportion correct (Pc) is a fundamental measure of task performance in psychophysics. The maximum Pc score that can be achieved by an optimal (maximum-likelihood) observer in a given task is of both theoretical and practical importance, because it sets an upper limit on human performance. Within the framework of signal detection theory, analytical solutions for computing the maximum Pc score have been established for several common experimental paradigms under the assumption of Gaussian additive internal noise. However, as the scope of applications of psychophysical signal detection theory expands, the need is growing for psychophysicists to compute maximum Pc scores for situations involving non-Gaussian (internal or stimulus-induced) noise. In this article, we provide a general formula for computing the maximum Pc in various psychophysical experimental paradigms for arbitrary probability distributions of sensory activity. Moreover, easy-to-use MATLAB code implementing the formula is provided. Practical applications of the formula are illustrated, and its accuracy is evaluated, for two paradigms and two types of probability distributions (uniform and Gaussian). The results demonstrate that Pc scores computed using the formula remain accurate even for continuous probability distributions, as long as the conversion from continuous probability density functions to discrete probability mass functions is supported by a sufficiently high sampling resolution. We hope that the exposition in this article, and the freely available MATLAB code, facilitates calculations of maximum performance for a wider range of experimental situations, as well as explorations of the impact of different assumptions concerning internal-noise distributions on maximum performance in psychophysical experiments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1448-1460
Number of pages13
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Volume77
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1 2015

Keywords

  • Internal noise
  • Optimal performance
  • Proportion correct
  • Psychophysics
  • Signal detection theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Sensory Systems
  • Linguistics and Language

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