The role of response bias in perceptual learning.

Pete R Jones, David R Moore, Daniel E Shub, Sygal Amitay

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Sensory judgments improve with practice. Such perceptual learning is often thought to reflect an increase in perceptual sensitivity. However, it may also represent a decrease in response bias, with unpracticed observers acting in part on a priori hunches rather than sensory evidence. To examine whether this is the case, 55 observers practiced making a basic auditory judgment (yes/no amplitude-modulation detection or forced-choice frequency/amplitude discrimination) over multiple days. With all tasks, bias was present initially, but decreased with practice. Notably, this was the case even on supposedly "bias-free," 2-alternative forced-choice, tasks. In those tasks, observers did not favor the same response throughout (stationary bias), but did favor whichever response had been correct on previous trials (nonstationary bias). Means of correcting for bias are described. When applied, these showed that at least 13% of perceptual learning on a forced-choice task was due to reduction in bias. In other situations, changes in bias were shown to obscure the true extent of learning, with changes in estimated sensitivity increasing once bias was corrected for. The possible causes of bias and the implications for our understanding of perceptual learning are discussed.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalJournal of experimental psychology. Learning, memory, and cognition
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2015


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