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Differences in Our Sensory Worlds: Invalid Comparisons with Labeled Scales

Linda M. Bartoshuk, Katharine Fast and Derek J. Snyder
Current Directions in Psychological Science
Vol. 14, No. 3 (Jun., 2005), pp. 122-125
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20183004
Page Count: 4
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Differences in Our Sensory Worlds: Invalid Comparisons with Labeled Scales
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Abstract

People use intensity descriptors to compare sensory differences: "This tastes strong to me; is it strong to you?" These comparisons are deceptive because they assume that intensity descriptors like strong denote the same absolute perceived intensities to everyone. This assumption is false. Visual-analogue and category scales are labeled with intensity descriptors, and whenever there are systematic differences across groups in the absolute perceived intensity denoted by these descriptors, across-group comparisons will be invalid. We have explored this problem using studies of taste perception. When intensity descriptors are falsely assumed to have universal meaning, real differences can be blunted, abolished, or reversed. One solution to this problem is to express sensations of interest relative to an unrelated standard; any variation in this standard will be equivalent across groups, allowing valid group comparisons. The importance of detecting and correcting these measurement errors is not limited to sensory comparisons, but applies to hedonic comparisons as well.

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