Speed accuracy trade-off under response deadlines

Front Neurosci. 2014 Aug 15;8:248. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2014.00248. eCollection 2014.


Perceptual decision making has been successfully modeled as a process of evidence accumulation up to a threshold. In order to maximize the rewards earned for correct responses in tasks with response deadlines, participants should collapse decision thresholds dynamically during each trial so that a decision is reached before the deadline. This strategy ensures on-time responding, though at the cost of reduced accuracy, since slower decisions are based on lower thresholds and less net evidence later in a trial (compared to a constant threshold). Frazier and Yu (2008) showed that the normative rate of threshold reduction depends on deadline delays and on participants' uncertainty about these delays. Participants should start collapsing decision thresholds earlier when making decisions under shorter deadlines (for a given level of timing uncertainty) or when timing uncertainty is higher (for a given deadline). We tested these predictions using human participants in a random dot motion discrimination task. Each participant was tested in free-response, short deadline (800 ms), and long deadline conditions (1000 ms). Contrary to optimal-performance predictions, the resulting empirical function relating accuracy to response time (RT) in deadline conditions did not decline to chance level near the deadline; nor did the slight decline we typically observed relate to measures of endogenous timing uncertainty. Further, although this function did decline slightly with increasing RT, the decline was explainable by the best-fitting parameterization of Ratcliff's diffusion model (Ratcliff, 1978), whose parameters are constant within trials. Our findings suggest that at the very least, typical decision durations are too short for participants to adapt decision parameters within trials.

Keywords: decision making; optimality; response deadlines; speed-accuracy; timing uncertainty.