Discriminating evidence accumulation from urgency signals in speeded decision making

J Neurophysiol. 2015 Jul;114(1):40-7. doi: 10.1152/jn.00088.2015. Epub 2015 Apr 22.


The dominant theoretical paradigm in explaining decision making throughout both neuroscience and cognitive science is known as “evidence accumulation”--The core idea being that decisions are reached by a gradual accumulation of noisy information. Although this notion has been supported by hundreds of experiments over decades of study, a recent theory proposes that the fundamental assumption of evidence accumulation requires revision. The "urgency gating" model assumes decisions are made without accumulating evidence, using only moment-by-moment information. Under this assumption, the successful history of evidence accumulation models is explained by asserting that the two models are mathematically identical in standard experimental procedures. We demonstrate that this proof of equivalence is incorrect, and that the models are not identical, even when both models are augmented with realistic extra assumptions. We also demonstrate that the two models can be perfectly distinguished in realistic simulated experimental designs, and in two real data sets; the evidence accumulation model provided the best account for one data set, and the urgency gating model for the other. A positive outcome is that the opposing modeling approaches can be fruitfully investigated without wholesale change to the standard experimental paradigms. We conclude that future research must establish whether the urgency gating model enjoys the same empirical support in the standard experimental paradigms that evidence accumulation models have gathered over decades of study.

Keywords: decision-making; evidence accumulation; mathematical model; response time; urgency gating.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation
  • Decision Making*
  • Eye Movements
  • Humans
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Models, Psychological*
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Motion Perception
  • Reaction Time