Detection theory: a users guide

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For the signal detection theory method, the same procedure was followed. However, only the frequency of absolute threshold was played during the signal plus noise trials. When only the noise trials were played, the experimenter did not activate the whistle sound. Calculations were conducted to determine the proportion of yes responses to the detection of the stimulus.


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Stimulus 2, Hz, was detected Stimulus 3, Hz, was detected From this, a psychophysical function was plotted, and the absolute threshold was found to be Hz. Since an intensity of 2 corresponded with a frequency of Hz, an intensity of 2.

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The outcome matrix from the signal detection theory describes what percentage of responses were false alarms, hits, correct rejections, and misses. Using these data and the data from the outcome matrix, an ROC curve was plotted see Figure 2. Two normal curves summarize the level of activity in the sensory system. The criterion value of 1. Several factors affect the confidence of these measurements.

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First, the study was not conducted in a laboratory and although precautions were taken to control for outside variables, it cannot be said with complete confidence that the only stimulus was the dog whistle. If there were other audio stimuli present during the constant stimuli trials, the absolute threshold might have been slightly larger than it would have been in a completely silent room. Furthermore, if the absolute threshold was measured to be larger than it actually was, the signal detection method would have used a stimulus intensity that was not difficult to detect.

If the signal detection method used an intensity level higher than it should be, then the sensitivity index would be inaccurate as well. Another important factor to consider is the initial range of frequencies chosen to be used for this study. The frequencies ranging from Hz were selected in a pilot study with an undergraduate student at Lake Forest College; Hz was the lowest frequency at which the student could detect any sort of sound. Thus, this frequency was used as the lowest intensity of stimulus for the experiment.

In future studies, several pilot tests should be run and an average should be taken to determine what the lowest detectable frequency should be. It is important to have a range of stimuli that are all detectable, but not too easily detectable across all levels. It is interesting to note the disparity between the proportion of yeses and hits made by the participant in the constant stimuli method compared to the signal detection theory method. One possible explanation for this sort of variation might be that the participant was making comparisons to four other levels of intensity in the constant stimuli experiment.

Thus, an intensity of 2. On the contrary, in the case of the signal detection theory experiment, the participant only had one comparison to make: the noise without any signal.


  1. Teaching signal detection theory with pseudoscience.
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  5. The utility of signal detection theory.
  6. Eliciting the factors that determine whether an individual has a conservative bias or not can be important in understanding what causes differences in perceptions. Furthermore, signal detection methods can be used in areas outside of perception. Essentially, signal detection theory is a statistical theory that can be used to improve empirical testing in a variety of fields including medicine, economics, and communication. I would like to thank Professor Naomi Wentworth for her direction and suggestions for this study.

    Special thanks to my father for taking the time to participate in my study. Macmillan, N. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Eukaryon is published by students at Lake Forest College, who are solely responsible for its content.

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    The views expressed in Eukaryon do not necessarily reflect those of the College. Lake Forest College. Primary Article. Disclaimer Eukaryon is published by students at Lake Forest College, who are solely responsible for its content. Articles published within Eukaryon should not be cited in bibliographies.

    Detection Theory: A User's Guide, 2nd Edition (e-Book) - Routledge

    In signal detection terms, Paula is highly sensitive to the musical voice. Her tendency is to identify anybody with a shred of talent as worthy of advancing to the next round. Because Simon is much more conservative, his tendency in signal detection terms is to be highly specific.

    There are, of course, trade-offs to each approach. What that means is that she will identify a greater proportion of performers as talented relative to the other judges and be more likely to erroneously conclude someone has talent when they do not. By setting such a high bar, some truly talented performers will go unrecognized by him.

    Decision making errors of this sort are often referred to in hypothesis testing as Type I and Type II errors. Whenever efficient detection of a signal is required, signal detection theory assists researchers in finding the point at which decision-making errors are minimized. This is often accomplished by plotting the hit rate i. One point on the curve will best balance hits and false alarms and that becomes the cut point for decision-making.

    Functionally, you can think of this as finding the optimum point on a radio dial in which the best reception is received in fact, this was the original application of signal detection. Although there might still be some static i. The optimum cut point is found by constructing a line that is at a right angle from the major diagonal.

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    The intersection of the minor diagonal with the curve is the point that maximizes the proportion of true positives relative to false positives. In contrast, points that fall on the major diagonal represent chance discrimination where proportions of true- and false-positives are equal.

    The greater the shaded area, the greater the detection accuracy. ROCs can also be transformed into z-units called a zROC by marking the axis in z scores rather than units of equal proportion. This has the effect of straightening the curve with unit slope.