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Measurement of Sensory Thresholds

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Abstract

One of the earliest characteristics of human sensory function to be measured was the absolute threshold. The absolute or detection threshold was seen as an energy level below which no sensation would be produced by a stimulus and above which a sensation would reach consciousness. The concept of threshold was central to Fechner’s psychophysics. His integration of Weber’s law to produce the first psychophysical relationship (S = k log I) in fact depends formally on the physical intensity, I, being measured with the absolute threshold as the unit (Boring, 1946). Early physiologists like Weber and Fechner used the classical method of limits to measure this point of discontinuity or beginning of the psychophysical function. In the method of limits, the energy or physical intensity level would be raised and lowered, and the average point at which the observer changed response from “no sensation” to “yes, I perceive something” would be taken as the threshold. This specification of the minimum energy level required for perception was one of the first operating characteristics of sensory function to be quantified. Historically, the other common property to be measured was the difference threshold or minimal increase in energy needed to produce a noticeable increase in sensation. Together, these two measures were used to specify the psychophysical function, which to Fechner was a process of adding difference thresholds once the absolute threshold had been passed.

Keywords

  • Sensory Evaluation
  • Psychometric Function
  • Sensory Threshold
  • Absolute Threshold
  • Psychophysical Function

These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

A light may be so weak as not sensibly to dispel the darkness, a sound so low as not to be heard, a contact so faint that we fail to notice it. In other words, a finite amount of the outward stimulus is required to produce any sensation of its presence at all. This is called by Fechner the law of the threshold— something must be stepped over before the object can gain entrance to the mind. — William James, 1913, p. 16

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Lawless, H.T., Heymann, H. (1999). Measurement of Sensory Thresholds. In: Sensory Evaluation of Food. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4615-7843-7_6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4615-7843-7_6

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