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The Role of Response Bias in Perceptual Learning

Jones, P. R. ORCID: 0000-0001-7672-8397, Moore, D., Shub, D. E. & Amitay, S. (2015). The Role of Response Bias in Perceptual Learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 41(5), pp. 1456-1470. doi: 10.1037/xlm0000111


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.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article has been published under the terms of the Creative Com-mons Attribution License (,which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any me-dium, provided the original author and source are credited. Copyright forthis article is retained by the author(s). Author(s) grant(s) the AmericanPsychological Association the exclusive right to publish the article andidentify itself as the original publisher.
Publisher Keywords: bias, perceptual learning, signal detection theory
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
R Medicine > RE Ophthalmology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Optometry & Visual Sciences
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