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Psychol Aging. 2010 Jun;25(2):377-90. doi: 10.1037/a0018022.

The effects of aging on the speed-accuracy compromise: Boundary optimality in the diffusion model.

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Department of Psychology, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210, USA.


We evaluated age-related differences in the optimality of decision boundary settings in a diffusion model analysis. In the model, the width of the decision boundary represents the amount of evidence that must accumulate in favor of a response alternative before a decision is made. Wide boundaries lead to slow but accurate responding, and narrow boundaries lead to fast but inaccurate responding. There is a single value of boundary separation that produces the most correct answers in a given period of time, and we refer to this value as the reward rate optimal boundary (RROB). We consistently found across a variety of decision tasks that older adults used boundaries that were much wider than the RROB value. Young adults used boundaries that were closer to the RROB value, although age differences in optimality were smaller with instructions emphasizing speed than with instructions emphasizing accuracy. Young adults adjusted their boundary settings to more closely approach the RROB value when they were provided with accuracy feedback and extensive practice. Older participants showed no evidence of making boundary adjustments in response to feedback or task practice, and they consistently used boundary separation values that produced accuracy levels that were near asymptote. Our results suggest that young adults attempt to balance speed and accuracy to achieve the most correct answers per unit time, whereas older adultts attempt to minimize errors even if they must respond quite slowly to do so.

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