Fast and accurate measurement of taste and smell thresholds using a maximum-likelihood adaptive staircase procedure

Percept Psychophys. 2001 Nov;63(8):1330-47. doi: 10.3758/bf03194546.


This paper evaluates the use of a maximum-likelihood adaptive staircase psychophysical procedure (ML-PEST), originally developed in vision and audition, for measuring detection thresholds in gustation and olfaction. The basis for the psychophysical measurement of thresholds with the ML-PEST procedure is developed. Then, two experiments and four simulations are reported. In the first experiment, ML-PEST was compared with the Wetherill and Levitt up-down staircase method and with the Cain ascending method of limits in the measurement of butyl alcohol thresholds. The four Monte Carlo simulations compared the three psychophysical procedures. In the second experiment, the test-retest reliability of MLPEST for measuring NaCl and butyl alcohol thresholds was assessed. The results indicate that the ML-PEST method gives reliable and precise threshold measurements. Its ability to detect malingerers shows considerable promise. It is recommended for use in clinical testing.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Psychometrics / methods
  • Psychophysics / statistics & numerical data
  • Reference Values
  • Sensory Thresholds*
  • Smell*
  • Taste Threshold*