The Discovery and Interpretation of Evidence Accumulation Stages

Leendert van Maanen*, Oscar Portoles, Jelmer P. Borst

*Corresponding author for this work

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To improve the understanding of cognitive processing stages, we combined two prominent traditions in cognitive science: evidence accumulation models and stage discovery methods. While evidence accumulation models have been applied to a wide variety of tasks, they are limited to tasks in which decision-making effects can be attributed to a single processing stage. Here, we propose a new method that first uses machine learning to discover processing stages in EEG data and then applies evidence accumulation models to characterize the duration effects in the identified stages. To evaluate this method, we applied it to a previously published associative recognition task (Application 1) and a previously published random dot motion task with a speed-accuracy trade-off manipulation (Application 2). In both applications, the evidence accumulation models accounted better for the data when we first applied the stage-discovery method, and the resulting parameter estimates where generally in line with psychological theories. In addition, in Application 1 the results shed new light on target-foil effects in associative recognition, while in Application 2 the stage discovery method identified an additional stage in the accuracy-focused condition — challenging standard evidence accumulation accounts. We conclude that the new framework provides a powerful new tool to investigate processing stages.

Original languageEnglish
JournalComputational Brain and Behavior
Early online date27-Apr-2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27-Apr-2021


  • EEG
  • Evidence accumulation
  • Processing stages

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