A Show About Nothing: No-Signal Processes in Systems Factorial Technology

Zachary L. Howard, Paul Garrett, Daniel R. Little, James T. Townsend, Ami Eidels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Systems Factorial Technology (SFT) is a popular framework for that has been used to investigate processing capacity across many psychological domains over the past 25+ years. To date, it had been assumed that no processing resources are used for sources in which no signal has been presented (i.e., in a location that can contain a signal but does not on a given trial). Hence, response times are purely driven by the signal-containing location or locations. This assumption is critical to the underlying mathematics of the capacity coefficient measure of SFT. In this article, we show that stimulus locations influence response times even when they contain no signal, and that this influence has repercussions for the interpretation of processing capacity under the SFT framework, particularly in conjunctive (AND) tasks-where positive responses require detection of signals in multiple locations. We propose a modification to the AND task requiring participants to fully identify both target locations on all trials. This modification allows a new coefficient to be derived. We apply the new coefficient to novel experimental data and resolve a previously reported empirical paradox, where observed capacity was limited in an OR detection task but super capacity in an AND detection task. Hence, previously reported differences in processing capacity between OR and AND task designs are likely to have been spurious.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)187–201
Number of pages15
JournalPsychological Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021


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