Can post-error dynamics explain sequential reaction time patterns?

Stephanie Goldfarb, Kong Fatt Wong-Lin, Michael Schwemmer, Naomi Ehrich Leonard, Philip Holmes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


We investigate human error dynamics in sequential two-alternative choice tasks. When subjects repeatedly discriminate between two stimuli, their error rates and reaction times (RTs) systematically depend on prior sequences of stimuli. We analyze these sequential effects on RTs, separating error and correct responses, and identify a sequential RT tradeoff: A sequence of stimuli which yields a relatively fast RT on error trials will produce a relatively slow RT on correct trials and vice versa. We reanalyze previous data and acquire and analyze new data in a choice task with stimulus sequences generated by a first-order Markov process having unequal probabilities of repetitions and alternations. We then show that relationships among these stimulus sequences and the corresponding RTs for correct trials, error trials, and averaged over all trials are significantly influenced by the probability of alternations; these relationships have not been captured by previous models. Finally, we show that simple, sequential updates to the initial condition and thresholds of a pure drift diffusion model can account for the trends in RT for correct and error trials. Our results suggest that error-based parameter adjustments are critical to modeling sequential effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberArticle 213
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberJUL
StatePublished - 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Psychology


  • Drift diffusion model
  • Error rate
  • Perceptual decision making
  • Post-error slowing
  • Reaction time
  • Sequential effects


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