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Psychometric function

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A psychometric function describes the relationship between a parameter of a physical stimulus and the responses of a person who has to decide about a certain aspect of that stimulus. The psychometric function usually resembles a sigmoid function with the percentage of correct responses (or a similar value) displayed on the ordinate and the physical parameter on the abscissa. If the stimulus parameter is very far towards one end of its possible range, the person will always be able to respond correctly. Towards the other end of the range, the person never perceives the stimulus properly and therefore the probability of correct responses is at chance level. In between, there is a transition range where the subject has an above-chance rate of correct responses, but does not always respond correctly. The inflection point of the sigmoid function or the point at which the function reaches the middle between the chance level and 100% is usually taken as sensory threshold.

A common example is visual acuity testing with an eye chart. The person sees symbols of different sizes (the size is the relevant physical stimulus parameter) and has to decide which symbol it is. Usually, there is one line on the chart where a subject can identify some, but not all, symbols. This is equal to the transition range of the psychometric function and the sensory threshold corresponds to visual acuity. (Strictly speaking, a typical optometric measurement does not exactly yield the sensory threshold due to biases in the standard procedure.)

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