Fechner's elusive parallel law

Helen E. Ross, Nicholas J. Wade

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    Weber's Law states that the differential threshold or just-noticeable-difference (jnd) is proportional to the physical intensity of the stimulus. Fechner built up his logarithmic law of sensation intensity from Weber's Law and the assumption that all jnds are subjectively equal. He thought it important that the Parallel Law should also hold. The Parallel Law states that, when perceived stimulus intensity is changed by something other than physical intensity (such as adaptation), Weber's Law continues to hold: discrimination should be unchanged provided the perceived values of the two stimuli change in the same ratio. Fechner claimed that weight discrimination was unaffected by weight adaptation; he was unsure about light adaptation; and he claimed that tactile length discrimination was unaffected by perceived changes caused by the bodily location of the stimulus. Modern research on adaptation for weights and other sensory stimuli shows that changes occur both in perceived intensity and in discrimination. Discrimination between stimuli is usually finest when the adaptation level is appropriate to the test level. There is insufficient evidence concerning the discrimination of tactile length and visual length when perceived length is changed. However, the Parallel Law may be untestable because of the difficulty of obtaining measures in the same experiment both for changes in discrimination and for the ratios of the perceived changes of the stimuli.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationFechner's legacy in psychology
    Subtitle of host publication150 years of elementary psychophysics
    EditorsJoshua A. Solomon
    Place of PublicationLeiden
    PublisherBrill Academic Publishers
    Number of pages14
    ISBN (Electronic)9789004192010
    ISBN (Print)9789004192201
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


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