Interpretation of absolute judgments using information theory: channel capacity or memory capacity?

Cybernetics and Human Knowing 17:111-155 (2010)
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Shannon’s information theory has been a popular component of first-order cybernetics. It quantifies information transmitted in terms of the number of times a sent symbol is received as itself, or as another possible symbol. Sent symbols were events and received symbols were outcomes. Garner and Hake reinterpreted Shannon, describing events and outcomes as categories of a stimulus attribute, so as to quantify the information transmitted in the psychologist’s category (or absolute judgment) experiment. There, categories are represented by specific stimuli, and the human subject must assign those stimuli, singly and in random order, to the categories that they represent. Hundreds of computations ensued of information transmitted and its alleged asymptote, the sensory channel capacity. The present paper critically re-examines those estimates. It also reviews estimates of memory capacity from memory experiments. It concludes that absolute judgment is memory-limited and that channel capacities are actually memory capacities. In particular, there are factors that affect absolute judgment that are not explainable within Shannon’s theory, factors such as feedback, practice, motivation, and stimulus range, as well as the anchor effect, sequential dependences, the rise in information transmitted with the increase in number of stimulus dimensions, and the phenomena of masking and stimulus duration dependence. It is recommended that absolute judgments be abandoned, because there are already many direct estimates of memory capacity.
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