A rational model of people's inferences about others’ preferences based on response times

Vael Gates, Frederick Callaway, Mark K. Ho, Thomas L. Griffiths

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


There's a difference between someone instantaneously saying “Yes!” when you ask them on a date compared to “…yes.” Psychologists and economists have long studied how people can infer preferences from others’ choices. However, these models have tended to focus on what people choose and not how long it takes them to make a choice. We present a rational model for inferring preferences from response times, using a drift diffusion model to characterize how preferences influence response time, and Bayesian inference to invert this relationship. We test our model's predictions for three experimental questions. Matching model predictions, participants inferred that a decision-maker preferred a chosen item more if the decision-maker spent less time deliberating (Experiment 1), participants predicted a decision-maker's choice in a novel comparison based on inferring the decision-maker's relative preferences from previous response times and choices (Experiment 2), and participants could incorporate information about a decision-maker's mental state of cautious or careless (Experiments 3, 4A, and 4B).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104885
StatePublished - Dec 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


  • Drift diffusion model
  • Inference
  • Social cognition
  • Theory of mind


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