Estimating parameters of the diffusion model: approaches to dealing with contaminant reaction times and parameter variability

Psychon Bull Rev. 2002 Sep;9(3):438-81. doi: 10.3758/bf03196302.


Three methods for fitting the diffusion model (Ratcliff, 1978) to experimental data are examined. Sets of simulated data were generated with known parameter values, and from fits of the model, we found that the maximum likelihood method was better than the chi-square and weighted least squares methods by criteria of bias in the parameters relative to the parameter values used to generate the data and standard deviations in the parameter estimates. The standard deviations in the parameter values can be used as measures of the variability in parameter estimates from fits to experimental data. We introduced contaminant reaction times and variability into the other components of processing besides the decision process and found that the maximum likelihood and chi-square methods failed, sometimes dramatically. But the weighted least squares method was robust to these two factors. We then present results from modifications of the maximum likelihood and chi-square methods, in which these factors are explicitly modeled, and show that the parameter values of the diffusion model are recovered well. We argue that explicit modeling is an important method for addressing contaminants and variability in nondecision processes and that it can be applied in any theoretical approach to modeling reaction time.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Models, Statistical*
  • Reaction Time