Measuring Software Timing Errors in the Presentation of Visual Stimuli in Cognitive Neuroscience Experiments


Because of the features provided by an abundance of specialized experimental software packages, personal computers have become prominent and powerful tools in cognitive research. Most of these programs have mechanisms to control the precision and accuracy with which visual stimuli are presented as well as the response times. However, external factors, often related to the technology used to display the visual information, can have a noticeable impact on the actual performance and may be easily overlooked by researchers. The aim of this study is to measure the precision and accuracy of the timing mechanisms of some of the most popular software packages used in a typical laboratory scenario in order to assess whether presentation times configured by researchers do not differ from measured times more than what is expected due to the hardware limitations. Despite the apparent precision and accuracy of the results, important issues related to timing setups in the presentation of visual stimuli were found, and they should be taken into account by researchers in their experiments.