Equal evidence perceptual tasks suggest a key role for interactive competition in decision-making

Psychol Rev. 2021 Nov;128(6):1051-1087. doi: 10.1037/rev0000284. Epub 2021 May 20.


The dynamics of decision-making have been widely studied over the past several decades through the lens of an overarching theory called sequential sampling theory (SST). Within SST, choices are represented as accumulators, each of which races toward a decision boundary by drawing stochastic samples of evidence through time. Although progress has been made in understanding how decisions are made within the SST framework, considerable debate centers on whether the accumulators exhibit dependency during the evidence accumulation process; namely, whether accumulators are independent, fully dependent, or partially dependent. To evaluate which type of dependency is the most plausible representation of human decision-making, we applied a novel twist on two classic perceptual tasks; namely, in addition to the classic paradigm (i.e., the unequal-evidence conditions), we used stimuli that provided different magnitudes of equal-evidence (i.e., the equal-evidence conditions). In equal-evidence conditions, response times systematically decreased with increase in the magnitude of evidence, whereas in unequal-evidence conditions, response times systematically increased as the difference in evidence between the two alternatives decreased. We designed a spectrum of models that ranged from independent accumulation to fully dependent accumulation, while also examining the effects of within-trial and between-trial variability (BTV). We then fit the set of models to our two experiments and found that models instantiating the principles of partial dependency provided the best fit to the data. Our results further suggest that mechanisms inducing partial dependency, such as lateral inhibition, are beneficial for understanding complex decision-making dynamics, even when the task is relatively simple. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making* / physiology
  • Humans
  • Reaction Time