Who gives a criterion shift? A uniquely individualistic cognitive trait


Individuals should strategically shift decision criteria when there are disproportionate likelihoods or consequences for falsely identifying versus missing target items. Despite being explicitly aware of the advantages for criterion shifting, people on average do not shift extremely, leading many theories to conclude that people are generally suboptimal at placing decision criteria. However, assessments of individual differences reveal that some people actually do criterion shift quite well while others fail to shift entirely. These individual differences may carry meaningful information about the nature and consistency of a person’s decision-making strategies, but no studies have systematically assessed the stability of strategic criterion shifting within individuals over time. We assessed criterion shifting stability by administering test–retest recognition memory and visual detection tests where we induced decision biases through instruction, payoff, and base rate manipulations. Criterion shifting tendencies proved to be stable within and across decision domains regardless of the inducement. Individual differences in criterion shifting could not be explained by personality characteristics, metacognitive sensitivity, motivation, or performance on other cognitive tasks. Reports of confidence ratings, which are used to assess various criterion placements, showed no relationship to the extent of criterion shifting unless participants received instructions to make certain response types with high confidence only. Participants who inadequately shifted criteria still tended to set extreme criteria for reporting high confidence, suggesting that these individuals are capable of shifting to greater extents, but appear unwilling to do so. These findings demonstrate that strategic criterion shifting tendencies are a stable and uniquely individualistic cognitive trait.

ICB Affiliated Authors

Layher, E., Dixit, A., and Miller, M. B.
Peer-Reviewed Article
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition