A rational analysis of cognitive control in a speeded discrimination task

We are interested in the mechanisms by which individuals monitor and adjust their performance of simple cognitive tasks. We model a speeded discrimination task in which individuals are asked to classify a sequence of stimuli (Jones & Braver, 2001). Response conflict arises when one stimulus class is infrequent relative to another, resulting in more errors and slower reaction times for the infrequent class. How do control processes modulate behavior based on the relative class frequencies? We explain performance from a rational perspective that casts the goal of individuals as minimizing a cost that depends both on error rate and reaction time. With two additional assumptions of rationality--that class prior probabilities are accurately estimated and that inference is optimal subject to limitations on rate of information transmission--we obtain a good fit to overall RT and error data, as well as trial-by-trial variations in performance.

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