The effect of interstimulus interval on sequential effects in absolute identification

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2009 Oct;62(10):2014-29. doi: 10.1080/17470210802649285. Epub 2009 Feb 19.


In absolute identification experiments, the participant is asked to identify stimuli drawn from a small set of items which differ on a single physical dimension (e.g., 10 tones which vary in frequency). Responses in these tasks show a striking pattern of sequential dependencies: The current response assimilates towards the immediately preceding stimulus but contrasts with the stimuli further back in the sequence. This pattern has been variously interpreted as resulting from confusion of items in memory, shifts in response criteria, or the action of selective attention, and these interpretations have been incorporated into competing formal models of absolute identification performance. In two experiments, we demonstrate that lengthening the time between trials increases contrast to both the previous stimulus and the stimulus two trials back. This surprising pattern of results is difficult to reconcile with the idea that sequential dependencies result from memory confusion or from criterion shifts, but is consistent with an account that emphasizes selective attention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Psychoacoustics
  • Random Allocation
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Serial Learning / physiology*
  • Time Factors