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Although many studies of reaction time (RT) focus on a single measure of central tendency such as the mean RT, a more detailed picture of the underlying processes can be gained by looking at full distributions of RTs. Unfortunately, for practical reasons it is sometimes difficult to obtain enough trials per participant in a condition of interest to construct such a distribution with existing methods. The purpose of this article is to propose a method of forming group RT distributions that can be used to compare the full distributions of RTs even in an infrequent condition with only a few trials per participant. In brief, the percentile ranks of each participant's infrequent-condition RTs are scored relative to a larger pool including that participant's RTs in other conditions, and a histogram of the infrequent-condition's percentile ranks is then formed by pooling across participants. The resulting histogram of infrequent-condition RT ranks shows where the RTs in that condition tend to fall relative to the other conditions, and this histogram can reveal systematic patterns in the infrequent-condition's RT distribution. To illustrate the method, I present histograms of the ranks of infrequent error RTs (~ 5% of trials), ranked relative to correct responses, in real data sets from Simon and lexical decision tasks.


Jeff Miller. Percentile rank pooling: A simple nonparametric method for comparing group reaction time distributions with few trials. Behavior research methods. 2021 Apr;53(2):781-791

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PMID: 32869140

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