Psychophysical Methods and the Evasion of Introspection

While introspective methods went out of favour with the decline of Titchener’s analytic school, many important questions concern the rehabilitation of introspection in contemporary psychology. Hatfield rightly points out that introspective methods should not be confused with analytic ones, and goes on to describe their “ineliminable role” in perceptual psychology. Here I argue that certain methodological conventions within psychophysics reflect a continued uncertainty over appropriate use of subjects’ perceptual observations and the reliability of their introspective judgements. My first claim is that different psychophysical methods do not rely equally on the introspective capabilities of experimental subjects. I contrast “minimally-introspective” tasks with “introspection-heavy” ones. It is only in the latter, I argue, that introspection can be said to have a non-trivial role in the subjects’ performance. My second claim is that my rough-and-ready distinction maps onto a number of important “dichotomies” in vision science. Not coincidentally, the introspection-heavy categorisation captures many of the tasks typically considered less able to yield useful information regarding the processes underlying visual sensation
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DOI 10.1086/677890
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