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Relative judgement is relatively difficult: Evidence against the role of relative judgement in absolute identification

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)922–931
Number of pages10
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number3
Early online date21 Sep 2015
DateAccepted/In press - 1 Sep 2015
DateE-pub ahead of print - 21 Sep 2015
DatePublished (current) - Jul 2016


A variety of processes have been put forward to explain absolute identification performance. One difference between current models of absolute identification is the extent to which the task involves accessing stored representations in long-term memory (e.g. exemplars in memory, Kent & Lamberts, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition, 31, 289–305, 2005) or relative judgement (comparison of the current stimulus to the stimulus on the previous trial, Stewart, Brown & Chater, Psychological Review, 112, 881–911, 2005). In two experiments we explored this by tapping into these processes. In Experiment 1 participants completed an absolute identification task using eight line lengths whereby a single stimulus was presented on each trial for identification. They also completed a matching task aimed at mirroring exemplar comparison in which eight line lengths were presented in a circular array and the task was to report which of these matched a target presented centrally. Experiment 2 was a relative judgement task and was similar to Experiment 1 except that the task was to report the difference (jump-size) between the current stimulus and that on the previous trial. The absolute identification and matching data showed clear similarities (faster and more accurate responding for stimuli near the edges of the range and similar stimulus-response confusions). In contrast, relative judgment performance was poor suggesting relative judgement is not straightforward. Moreover, performance as a function of jump-size differed considerably between the relative judgement and absolute identification tasks. Similarly, in the relative judgement task, predicting correct stimulus identification based on successful relative judgement yielded the reverse pattern of performance observed in the absolute identification task. Overall, the data suggest that relative judgement does not underlie absolute identification and that the task is more likely reliant on an exemplar comparison process.

    Research areas

  • absolute identification, judgement, judgment, relative judgment, exemplar models

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