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Psychon Bull Rev. 2008 Jun;15(3):465-94.

Decision noise: an explanation for observed violations of signal detection theory.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.


In signal detection theory (SDT), responses are governed by perceptual noise and a flexible decision criterion. Recent criticisms of SDT (see, e.g., Balakrishnan, 1999) have identified violations of its assumptions, and researchers have suggested that SDT fundamentally misrepresents perceptual and decision processes. We hypothesize that, instead, these violations of SDT stem from decision noise: the inability to use deterministic response criteria. In order to investigate this hypothesis, we present a simple extension of SDT--the decision noise model--with which we demonstrate that shifts in a decision criterion can be masked by decision noise. In addition, we propose a new statistic that can help identify whether the violations of SDT stem from perceptual or from decision processes. The results ofa stimulus classification experiment--together with model fits to past experiments--show that decision noise substantially affects performance. These findings suggest that decision noise is important across a wide range of tasks and needs to be better understood in order to accurately measure perceptual processes.

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