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Xiaomo Chen, Stefan Mihalas, Ernst Niebur, Veit Stuphorn; Mechanisms underlying the influence of saliency on value-based decisions. Journal of Vision 2013;13(12):18. doi: 10.1167/13.12.18.
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Objects in the environment differ in their low-level perceptual properties (e.g., how easily a fruit can be recognized) as well as in their subjective value (how tasty it is). We studied the influence of visual salience on value-based decisions using a two alternative forced choice task, in which human subjects rapidly chose items from a visual display. All targets were equally easy to detect. Nevertheless, both value and salience strongly affected choices made and reaction times. We analyzed the neuronal mechanisms underlying these behavioral effects using stochastic accumulator models, allowing us to characterize not only the averages of reaction times but their full distributions. Independent models without interaction between the possible choices failed to reproduce the observed choice behavior, while models with mutual inhibition between alternative choices produced much better results. Mutual inhibition thus is an important feature of the decision mechanism. Value influenced the amount of accumulation in all models. In contrast, increased salience could either lead to an earlier start (onset model) or to a higher rate (speed model) of accumulation. Both models explained the data from the choice trials equally well. However, salience also affected reaction times in no-choice trials in which only one item was present, as well as error trials. Only the onset model could explain the observed reaction time distributions of error trials and no-choice trials. In contrast, the speed model could not, irrespective of whether the rate increase resulted from more frequent accumulated quanta or from larger quanta. Visual salience thus likely provides an advantage in the onset, not in the processing speed, of value-based decision making.
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