Why do temporal generalization gradients change when people make decisions as quickly as possible?

Q J Exp Psychol (Hove). 2011 Aug;64(8):1646-64. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2011.564290. Epub 2011 May 27.


Three experiments investigated temporal generalization performance under conditions in which participants were instructed to make their decisions as quickly as possible (speed), or were allowed to take their time (accuracy). A previous study (Klapproth & Müller, 2008) had shown that under speeded conditions people were more likely to confuse durations shorter than the standard with the standard than in the accuracy conditions, and a possible explanation of this result is that longer stimulus durations are "truncated" (i.e., people make a judgement about them before they have terminated, thereby shortening their effective duration) and that these truncated durations affect the standard used for the task. Experiment 1 investigated performance under speed and accuracy conditions when comparison durations were close to the standard or further away. No performance difference was found as a function of stimulus spacing, even though responses occurred on average before the longest durations had terminated, but this lack of effect was attributed to "task difficulty" effects changing decision thresholds. In Experiment 2, the standard duration was either the longest or the shortest duration in the comparison set, and differences between speed and accuracy groups occurred only when the comparisons were longer than the standard, supporting the "truncation" hypothesis. A third experiment showed that differences between speed and accuracy groups only occurred if some memory of the standard that was valid for more than one trial was used. In general, the results suggest that the generalization gradient shifts in speeded conditions occur because of truncation of longer comparison durations, which influences the effective standard used for the task.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention / physiology
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology
  • Female
  • Generalization, Psychological / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Time Perception / physiology*