Background: The speed and accuracy of decision-making have a well-known trading relationship: hasty decisions are more prone to errors while careful, accurate judgments take more time. Despite the pervasiveness of this speed-accuracy trade-off (SAT) in decision-making, its neural basis is still unknown.
Methodology/principal findings: Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) we show that emphasizing the speed of a perceptual decision at the expense of its accuracy lowers the amount of evidence-related activity in lateral prefrontal cortex. Moreover, this speed-accuracy difference in lateral prefrontal cortex activity correlates with the speed-accuracy difference in the decision criterion metric of signal detection theory. We also show that the same instructions increase baseline activity in a dorso-medial cortical area involved in the internal generation of actions.
Conclusions/significance: These findings suggest that the SAT is neurally implemented by modulating not only the amount of externally-derived sensory evidence used to make a decision, but also the internal urge to make a response. We propose that these processes combine to control the temporal dynamics of the speed-accuracy trade-off in decision-making.