Review of Arthur R. Jensen (2006) - Clocking the Mind: Mental Chronometry and Individual Differences

By Glicksohn, Joseph | Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Review of Arthur R. Jensen (2006) - Clocking the Mind: Mental Chronometry and Individual Differences


Glicksohn, Joseph, Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology


Mental chronometry, as Arthur Jensen stresses, is the study of reaction time (RT) in its various guises, contexts, and applications. As with respect to much of experimental psychology (cognitive and other), there is a venerable past here lying in the background, providing a wide-ranging context in which to embed our current (that is, our 40-odd year) preoccupation with RT as a primary dependent measure in cognitive psychology. This recent book, Clocking the Mind: Mental Chronometry and Individual Differences (published by Elsevier), weds both differential psychology's concern with the measurement of individual differences in RT (e.g., Austin, Deary, Gibson, McGregor, & Dent, 1998) and experimental psychology's concern with "the effects of manipulating various external conditions on variation in the measurements of RT" (p. 1). The reader of this journal will most probably be more familiar with the latter use of RT in the literature, especially when embedded within such familiar experimental tasks as those tapping both Garner and Stroop effects (Pansky & Algom, 1999). If this be the case, then one might well be wondering why such a book is needed. After all, do we not all know how to measure RT and to use this profitably in our research?

In answer, I would like to state that it is always instructive to read a book by a master of the field. Arthur Jensen is, of course, well known for his contributions to the study of intelligence, including (but not limited to) the use of RT in this domain. The book comprises 14 chapters (272 pages), discussing history, terminology, and paradigms (first three chapters), continuing with measurement, developmental issues, cognitive aging and genetics (next four), focussing on individual differences in five subsequent chapters (dealing with psychometrics, correlating Chronometrie and psychometric measures, inspection time, RT and IQ, and the relation of RT to other variables), and ending with two chapters discussing clinical and medical uses of RT and a plea for standardizing chronometry. To my mind, the first half of the book (until page 135) will be of use to a general audience, who have an interest in the use of RT in research, while not necessarily being concerned with the issue of individual differences. This notwithstanding, it is from the vantage of the study of individual differences (including psychometric considerations) that Jensen contributes some compelling thoughts regarding RT, some of which will certainly challenge the experimental psychologist. I will elaborate on eight of these points - choosing five from the first half and three from the second half, but intermeshed below. These points are as follows, and discussed in this order: 1) the standard measurement of RT, 2) the use of additive factors in analyzing RT, 3) psychometric considerations for RT, 4) the Brinley plot, mapping older ("aging") RT onto younger RT, 5) the use of regression parameters in chronometry, 6) ensuring independence of measures in RT multivariate analyses, 7) the speed-accuracy trade-off for RT, and 8) brain-behaviour relationships and RT. I will exploit this platform to engage in debate with the author.

To begin with, even though this insight appears at the end of the book, the standard practice of using a computer keyboard to measure RT comes under attack (Point 1):

The four cursor keys are most frequently used. Because these keys are on the right-hand side of the keyboard, they possibly favor right-handed subjects... Subjects also find it distracting or confusing to have the whole complex keyboard exposed when only a few keys are needed for the particular task... Many obvious disadvantages of using a computer keyboard as the response console make it the least desirable choice for minimizing irrelevant and unwanted sources of variance in Chronometrie measurements, (p. 240)

As Jensen indicates, experimental psychologists may well have introduced a source of systematic error into the computerized lab. …

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