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J Vis. 2010 Sep 9;10(11):6. doi: 10.1167/10.11.6.

Evaluating comparative and equality judgments in contrast perception: attention alters appearance.

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Psychology and Neural Science, New York University, New York, NY, USA.


Covert attention not only improves performance in many visual tasks but also modulates the appearance of several visual features. Studies on attention and appearance have assessed subjective appearance using a task contingent upon a comparative judgment (e.g., M. Carrasco, S. Ling, & S. Read, 2004). Recently, K. A. Schneider and M. Komlos (2008) questioned the validity of those results because they did not find a significant effect of attention on contrast appearance using an equality task. They claim that such equality judgments are bias-free whereas comparative judgments are bias-prone and propose an alternative interpretation of the previous findings based on a decision bias. However, to date there is no empirical support for the superiority of the equality procedure. Here, we compare biases and sensitivity to shifts in perceived contrast of both paradigms. We measured contrast appearance using both a comparative and an equality judgment. Observers judged the contrasts of two simultaneously presented stimuli, while either the contrast of one stimulus was physically incremented (Experiments 1 and 2) or exogenous attention was drawn to it (Experiments 3 and 4). We demonstrate several methodological limitations of the equality paradigm. Nevertheless, both paradigms capture shifts in PSE due to physical and perceived changes in contrast and show that attention enhances apparent contrast.

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