The gold standard among proximity data collection methods for multidimensional scaling is the (dis)similarity rating of pairwise presented stimuli. A drawback of the pairwise method is its lengthy duration, which may cause participants to change their strategy over time, become fatigued, or disengage altogether. Hout, Goldinger, and Ferguson (2013) recently made a case for the Spatial Arrangement Method (SpAM) as an alternative to the pairwise method, arguing that it is faster and more engaging. SpAM invites participants to directly arrange stimuli on a computer screen such that the inter-stimuli distances are proportional to psychological proximity. Based on a reanalysis of the Hout et al. (2013) data we identify three caveats for SpAM. An investigation of the distributional characteristics of the SpAM proximity data reveals that the spatial nature of SpAM imposes structure on the data, invoking a bias against featural representations. Individual differences scaling of the SpAM proximity data reveals that the two-dimensional nature of SpAM allows individuals to only communicate two dimensions of variation among stimuli properly, invoking a bias against high-dimensional scaling representations. Monte Carlo simulations indicate that in order to obtain reliable estimates of the group average, SpAM requires more individuals to be tested. We conclude with an overview of considerations that can inform the choice between SpAM and the pairwise method and offer suggestions on how to overcome their respective limitations.

multidimensional scaling, proximity, similarity, dissimilarity, reliability, indscal, dimensionality, pairwise rating,
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General
Department of Psychology

Verheyen, S, Voorspoels, W, Vanpaemel, W., & Storms, G. (2016). Caveats for the spatial arrangement method: Comment on Hout, Goldinger, and Ferguson (2013). Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 145, 376–382. doi:10.1037/a0039758