Memory model of information transmitted in absolute judgment

Kybernetes 40:80-109 (2011)
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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to examine the popular “information transmitted” interpretation of absolute judgments, and to provide an alternative interpretation if one is needed. Design/methodology/approach – The psychologists Garner and Hake and their successors used Shannon’s Information Theory to quantify information transmitted in absolute judgments of sensory stimuli. Here, information theory is briefly reviewed, followed by a description of the absolute judgment experiment, and its information theory analysis. Empirical channel capacities are scrutinized. A remarkable coincidence, the similarity of maximum information transmitted to human memory capacity, is described. Over 60 representative psychology papers on “information transmitted” are inspected for evidence of memory involvement in absolute judgment. Finally, memory is conceptually integrated into absolute judgment through a novel qualitative model that correctly predicts how judgments change with increase in the number of judged stimuli. Findings – Garner and Hake gave conflicting accounts of how absolute judgments represent information transmission. Further, “channel capacity” is an illusion caused by sampling bias and wishful thinking; information transmitted actually peaks and then declines, the peak coinciding with memory capacity. Absolute judgments themselves have numerous idiosyncracies that are incompatible with a Shannon general communication system but which clearly imply memory dependence. Research limitations/implications – Memory capacity limits the correctness of absolute judgments. Memory capacity is already well measured by other means, making redundant the informational analysis of absolute judgments. Originality/value – This paper presents a long-overdue comprehensive critical review of the established interpretation of absolute judgments in terms of “information transmitted”. An inevitable conclusion is reached: that published measurements of information transmitted actually measure memory capacity. A new, qualitative model is offered for the role of memory in absolute judgments. The model is well supported by recently revealed empirical properties of absolute judgments.
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