Psychophysical measurements in children: challenges, pitfalls, and considerations

Caroline Witton*, Joel B. Talcott, G. Bruce Henning

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Measuring sensory sensitivity is important in studying development and developmental disorders. However, with children, there is a need to balance reliable but lengthy sensory tasks with the child's ability to maintain motivation and vigilance. We used simulations to explore the problems associated with shortening adaptive psychophysical procedures, and suggest how these problems might be addressed. We quantify how adaptive procedures with too few reversals can over-estimate thresholds, introduce substantial measurement error, and make estimates of individual thresholds less reliable. The associated measurement error also obscures group differences. Adaptive procedures with children should therefore use as many reversals as possible, to reduce the effects of both Type 1 and Type 2 errors. Differences in response consistency, resulting from lapses in attention, further increase the over-estimation of threshold. Comparisons between data from individuals who may differ in lapse rate are therefore problematic, but measures to estimate and account for lapse rates in analyses may mitigate this problem.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3231
Number of pages22
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2017

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2017 Witton et al. Distributed under Creative Commons CC-BY 4.0


  • adaptive procedures
  • auditory
  • children
  • developmental disorders
  • dyslexia
  • psychophysics
  • sensory systems
  • staircase
  • vision


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