The overconstraint of response time models: rethinking the scaling problem

Psychon Bull Rev. 2009 Dec;16(6):1129-35. doi: 10.3758/PBR.16.6.1129.


Theories of choice response time (RT) provide insight into the psychological underpinnings of simple decisions. Evidence accumulation (or sequential sampling) models are the most successful theories of choice RT. These models all have the same "scaling" property--that a subset of their parameters can be multiplied by the same amount without changing their predictions. This property means that a single parameter must be fixed to allow the estimation of the remaining parameters. In the present article, we show that the traditional solution to this problem has overconstrained these models, unnecessarily restricting their ability to account for data and making implicit--and therefore unexamined--psychological assumptions. We show that versions of these models that address the scaling problem in a minimal way can provide a better description of data than can their overconstrained counterparts, even when increased model complexity is taken into account.

MeSH terms

  • Choice Behavior*
  • Decision Making*
  • Humans
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Models, Statistical
  • Psychophysics
  • Reaction Time*
  • Semantics*
  • Verbal Learning*