Challenging the fixed-criterion model of perceptual decision-making

Jennifer Laura Lee, Rachel Denison, Wei Ji Ma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Perceptual decision-making is often conceptualized as the process of comparing an internal decision variable to a categorical boundary or criterion. How the mind sets such a criterion has been studied from at least two perspectives. One idea is that the criterion is a fixed quantity. In work on subjective phenomenology, the notion of a fixed criterion has been proposed to explain a phenomenon called "subjective inflation"-a form of metacognitive mismatch in which observers overestimate the quality of their sensory representation in the periphery or at unattended locations. A contrasting view emerging from studies of perceptual decision-making is that the criterion adjusts to the level sensory uncertainty and is thus sensitive to variations in attention. Here, we mathematically demonstrate that previous empirical findings supporting subjective inflation are consistent with either a fixed or a flexible decision criterion. We further lay out specific task properties that are necessary to make inferences about the flexibility of the criterion: (i) a clear mapping from decision variable space to stimulus feature space and (ii) an incentive for observers to adjust their decision criterion as uncertainty changes. Recent work satisfying these requirements has demonstrated that decision criteria flexibly adjust according to uncertainty. We conclude that the fixed-criterion model of subjective inflation is poorly tenable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberniad010
JournalNeuroscience of Consciousness
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2023


  • criterion-setting
  • perceptual decision-making
  • signal detection theory
  • subjective inflation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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