Perception & Psychophysics

, Volume 28, Issue 5, pp 390-397

First online:

Three-stimulus procedures in olfactory psychophysics: An experimental comparison of Thurstone-Ura and three-alternative forced-choice models of signal detection theory

  • J. E. R. FrijtersAffiliated withDepartment of Human Nutrition, Agricultural University


The experimental differences between the triangular method and three-alternative forcedchoice (3-AFC) signal detection theory procedure are briefly reviewed, and the conditions to be met for a valid application of the respective procedures under the Thurstone-Ura and 3-AFC models are described. The assumptions of both of these unidimensional probabilistic models are given, and the functions relating the probability of a correct response to d, a parameter of sensory stimulus distance, are specified. Since the two models both contain d, the hypothesis of invariability of this parameter with the triangular method and the 3-AFC procedure was tested using olfactory stimuli. This hypothesis was strongly confirmed, since the functions relating d to the logarithm of the ratio of the physical stimulus values were virtually identical for the two methods and their concomitant models. The results are important not only for the field of olfactory psychophysics; they also have wider methodological and psychophysical interest. The bias against the middle stimulus of a triangle in the triangular method observed when olfactory stimuli are used can be explained as the resultant of sensory adaptation. Finally, some practical implications of the present results for application of the triangular method are discussed.