The elusive tradeoff: Speed vs accuracy in visual discrimination tasks
Theoretical models for choice reaction time and discrimination under time pressure must account for Ss’ ability to trade accuracy for increased speed. The fast guess model views these tradeoffs as different mixtures of “all-or-none” strategies, while incremental models assume they reflect different degrees of thoroughness in processing the stimulus. Three experiments sought tradeoffs for difficult visual discriminations, using explicit payoffs to control and manipulate pressures for speed and accuracy. Although guessing was pervasive, the simple fast guess model could be rejected; Experiments II and III obtained tradeoffs even when fast guesses were purged from Ss’ data. Tradeoff functions fit by several formulations revealed: (1) slower rates of increase in accuracy for more similar stimuli, and (2) substantial “dead times” (80–100 msec slower than detection times) before discrimination responses could exceed chance accuracy. Errors were sometimes faster and sometimes slower than correct responses (depending on S’s speed-accuracy trade); the latter effect may reflect a ceiling on S’s achievable accuracy. A final discussion examines implications of the results for models of discrimination under time pressure; it suggests modifications in present models, focusing on the random walk model, and describes an alternative “deadline” model.