Internal and External Sources of Variability in Perceptual Decision-Making

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It is important to identify sources of variability in processing to understand decision-making in perception and cognition. There is a distinction between internal and external variability in processing, and double-pass experiments have been used to estimate their relative contributions. In these and our experiments, exact perceptual stimuli are repeated later in testing, and agreement on the 2 trials is examined to see if it is greater than chance. In recent research in modeling decision processes, some models implement only (internal) variability in the decision process whereas others explicitly represent multiple sources of variability. We describe 5 perceptual double-pass experiments that show greater than chance agreement, which is inconsistent with models that assume internal variability alone. Estimates of total trial-to-trial variability in the evidence accumulation (drift) rate (the decision-relevant stimulus information) were estimated from fits of the standard diffusion decision-making model to the data. The double-pass procedure provided estimates of how much of this total variability was systematic and dependent on the stimulus. These results provide the first behavioral evidence independent of model fits for trial-to-trial variability in drift rate in tasks used in examining perceptual decision-making.

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