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Psychon Bull Rev. 2016 Feb;23(1):22-38. doi: 10.3758/s13423-015-0858-8.

Absolutely relative or relatively absolute: violations of value invariance in human decision making.

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Psychological and Brain Science, Indiana University, 1101 E. 10th Street, Bloomington, IN, 47405, USA.
Tel-Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel.


Making decisions based on relative rather than absolute information processing is tied to choice optimality via the accumulation of evidence differences and to canonical neural processing via accumulation of evidence ratios. These theoretical frameworks predict invariance of decision latencies to absolute intensities that maintain differences and ratios, respectively. While information about the absolute values of the choice alternatives is not necessary for choosing the best alternative, it may nevertheless hold valuable information about the context of the decision. To test the sensitivity of human decision making to absolute values, we manipulated the intensities of brightness stimuli pairs while preserving either their differences or their ratios. Although asked to choose the brighter alternative relative to the other, participants responded faster to higher absolute values. Thus, our results provide empirical evidence for human sensitivity to task irrelevant absolute values indicating a hard-wired mechanism that precedes executive control. Computational investigations of several modelling architectures reveal two alternative accounts for this phenomenon, which combine absolute and relative processing. One account involves accumulation of differences with activation dependent processing noise and the other emerges from accumulation of absolute values subject to the temporal dynamics of lateral inhibition. The potential adaptive role of such choice mechanisms is discussed.


Computational modeling; Inhibition; Judgment and decision making; Response time models

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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