Neurodynamic Evidence Supports a Forced-Excursion Model of Decision-Making under Speed/Accuracy Instructions

  • Spieser Laure
  • Kohl Carmen
  • Forster Bettina
  • Bestmann Sven
  • Yarrow Kielan

  • Centroparietal positivity
  • Decision-making
  • Motor-evoked potentials
  • Race model
  • Sequential sampling model
  • Speed-accuracy tradeoff


Evolutionary pressures suggest that choices should be optimized to maximize rewards, by appropriately trading speed for accuracy. This speed-accuracy tradeoff (SAT) is commonly explained by variation in just the baseline-to-boundary distance, i.e., the excursion, of accumulation-to-bound models of perceptual decision-making. However, neural evidence is not consistent with this explanation. A compelling account of speeded choice should explain both overt behavior and the full range of associated brain signatures. Here, we reconcile seemingly contradictory behavioral and neural findings. In two variants of the same experiment, we triangulated upon the neural underpinnings of the SAT in the human brain using both EEG and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). We found that distinct neural signals, namely the event-related potential (ERP) centroparietal positivity (CPP) and a smoothed motor-evoked potential (MEP) signal, which have both previously been shown to relate to decision-related accumulation, revealed qualitatively similar average neurodynamic profiles with only subtle differences between SAT conditions. These signals were then modelled from behavior by either incorporating traditional boundary variation or utilizing a forced excursion. These model variants are mathematically equivalent, in terms of their behavioral predictions, hence providing identical fits to correct and erroneous reaction time distributions. However, the forced-excursion version instantiates SAT via a more global change in parameters and implied neural activity, a process conceptually akin to, but mathematically distinct from, urgency. This variant better captured both ERP and MEP neural profiles, suggesting that the SAT may be implemented via neural gain modulation, and reconciling standard modelling approaches with human neural data.