Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 204-210

First online:

Model discrimination through adaptive experimentation

  • Daniel R. CavagnaroAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, The Ohio State University Email author 
  • , Mark A. PittAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, The Ohio State University
  • , Jay I. MyungAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, The Ohio State University


An ideal experiment is one in which data collection is efficient and the results are maximally informative. This standard can be difficult to achieve because of uncertainties about the consequences of design decisions. We demonstrate the success of a Bayesian adaptive method (adaptive design optimization, ADO) in optimizing design decisions when comparing models of the time course of forgetting. Across a series of testing stages, ADO intelligently adapts the retention interval in order to maximally discriminate power and exponential models. Compared with two different control (non-adaptive) methods, ADO distinguishes the models decisively, with the results unambiguously favoring the power model. Analyses suggest that ADO’s success is due in part to its flexibility in adjusting to individual differences. This implementation of ADO serves as an important first step in assessing its applicability and usefulness to psychology.


Retention Active learning Model discrimination Experimental design Adaptive testing