Publication: A model for the time-order error in contrast discrimination.
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Trials in a temporal two-interval forced-choice discrimination experiment consist of two sequential intervals presenting stimuli that differ from one another as to magnitude along some continuum. The observer must report in which interval the stimulus had a larger magnitude. The standard difference model from signal detection theory analyses poses that order of presentation should not affect the results of the comparison, something known as the balance condition (J.-C. Falmagne, 1985, in Elements of Psychophysical Theory). But empirical data prove otherwise and consistently reveal what Fechner (1860/1966, in Elements of Psychophysics) called time-order errors, whereby the magnitude of the stimulus presented in one of the intervals is systematically underestimated relative to the other. Here we discuss sensory factors (temporary desensitization) and procedural glitches (short interstimulus or intertrial intervals and response bias) that might explain the time-order error, and we derive a formal model indicating how these factors make observed performance vary with presentation order despite a single underlying mechanism. Experimental results are also presented illustrating the conventional failure of the balance condition and testing the hypothesis that time-order errors result from contamination by the factors included in the model.