Academic journal article Psychological Test and Assessment Modeling

The Probability Distribution of the Response Times in a Self-Paced Continuous Search Task

Academic journal article Psychological Test and Assessment Modeling

The Probability Distribution of the Response Times in a Self-Paced Continuous Search Task

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)


At the beginning of the twentieth century, the first intelligence test was proposed by Binet. The test is known as Binet's intelligence scale. In addition to intelligence tests, however, eminent psychologists, such as Binet, Hylan and Spearman started using socalled prolonged work or continuous performance tasks (CPTs), in which subjects are required to engage in simple, repetitive activities, such as letter cancellation, detecting differences in simple shapes, adding three digits and so on. The obtained series of response (or reaction) times made it possible to examine the patterns of reaction times (Binet, 1900; Hylan, 1989). In this way, it was possible to study "the fluctuations which always occur in any persons continuous output of mental work, even when this is so devised as to remain of approximately constant difficulty" (Spearman, 1927, p. 320).

Many years later, in the Netherlands, the Bourdon-Wiersma test (see Huiskamp & de Mare, 1947) was introduced, and subsequently a test version was designed for children. This test is known as the Bourdon-Vos Test (Vos, 1992). Such tests provide several measures that can be used as indicators of the mental ability of the testee. The simplest measure is the amount of time used (speed) to accomplish the test. Furthermore, because of the nature of such tests, multiple RTs are obtained for each subject. These intraindividual RTs are used to calculate the mean or median and the standard deviation in RT over series. For example, in earlier studies on Bourdon-like cancellation tests, the preferred measure of performance fluctuations was the percentile range, defined as the difference between fastest and slowest row(s) of the test. However, the ability to use different measures has caused some debate among researchers. For example, over a century ago Hylan (1898) and Binet (1900) stressed the importance of the fluctuation in the reaction times and suggested the mean deviation as a measure of performance.

Several decades later, Spearman considered that oscillation was a separate universal factor in addition to what he called the general factor and perseveration (Spearman, 1927, p. 327). Indeed, Larson and Alderton (1990) reported the following: "Jensen (1982), discussing his reaction time (RT) experiments, noted that trial-to-trial variability (the standard deviation of each subject's reaction times) frequently surpassed response speed as a predictor of intelligence. That is, low aptitude individuals were excessively variable from one RT trial to the next, relative to brighter subjects. Currently, numerous studies suggest that his observation was correct and that variability has a robust statistical relationship to intelligence." This study is in line with the abovementioned suggestion and introduces theoretically based models explaining how RTs fluctuate during simple CPTs. More recently, a validation study with a new CPT test known as the Attention Concentration Test (ACT) was reported by Hotulainen et al. (2014). This study examined how attention (RT variation) correlated with and contributed to scientific reasoning (a modified version of Science Reasoning Tasks) and school achievement (GPA).

Although measures of variation, such as the mean deviation and the standard deviation may be intuitively appealing for RT measures, these measures lack theoretical foundations to explain observed RT fluctuations. For example, one might rightly ask what exactly is captured in the different measures which are used. This question can be only answered by an explanatory theory of the fluctuations in the RTs. Hence, the aim of this study first is to introduce a theoretically sound conceptualization for the random variability of the RTs in the stationary part of the time series and second, to determine by testing whether the models chosen to explain the random variability of the RTs holds with the empirical data.

Attention and attention concentration tests

In this study, attention is understood as a fundamental attentional capacity (Smit & van der Ven, 1995). …

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