How mechanisms of perceptual decision-making affect the psychometric function

Prog Neurobiol. 2013 Apr;103:98-114. doi: 10.1016/j.pneurobio.2012.05.008. Epub 2012 May 17.


Psychometric functions are often interpreted in the context of Signal Detection Theory, which emphasizes a distinction between sensory processing and non-sensory decision rules in the brain. This framework has helped to relate perceptual sensitivity to the "neurometric" sensitivity of sensory-driven neural activity. However, perceptual sensitivity, as interpreted via Signal Detection Theory, is based on not just how the brain represents relevant sensory information, but also how that information is read out to form the decision variable to which the decision rule is applied. Here we discuss recent advances in our understanding of this readout process and describe its effects on the psychometric function. In particular, we show that particular aspects of the readout process can have specific, identifiable effects on the threshold, slope, upper asymptote, time dependence, and choice dependence of psychometric functions. To illustrate these points, we emphasize studies of perceptual learning that have identified changes in the readout process that can lead to changes in these aspects of the psychometric function. We also discuss methods that have been used to distinguish contributions of the sensory representation versus its readout to psychophysical performance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Psychometrics