The effect of stimulus strength on the speed and accuracy of a perceptual decision

J Vis. 2005 May 2;5(5):376-404. doi: 10.1167/5.5.1.


Both the speed and the accuracy of a perceptual judgment depend on the strength of the sensory stimulation. When stimulus strength is high, accuracy is high and response time is fast; when stimulus strength is low, accuracy is low and response time is slow. Although the psychometric function is well established as a tool for analyzing the relationship between accuracy and stimulus strength, the corresponding chronometric function for the relationship between response time and stimulus strength has not received as much consideration. In this article, we describe a theory of perceptual decision making based on a diffusion model. In it, a decision is based on the additive accumulation of sensory evidence over time to a bound. Combined with simple scaling assumptions, the proportional-rate and power-rate diffusion models predict simple analytic expressions for both the chronometric and psychometric functions. In a series of psychophysical experiments, we show that this theory accounts for response time and accuracy as a function of both stimulus strength and speed-accuracy instructions. In particular, the results demonstrate a close coupling between response time and accuracy. The theory is also shown to subsume the predictions of Piéron's Law, a power function dependence of response time on stimulus strength. The theory's analytic chronometric function allows one to extend theories of accuracy to response time.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Psychometrics
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Visual Perception / physiology*