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The role of response mechanisms in determining reaction time performance: Piéron’s Law revisited

By T. Stafford and K.N. Gurney


A response mechanism takes evaluations of the importance of potential actions and selects the most suitable. Response mechanism function is a nontrivial problem that has not received the attention it deserves within cognitive psychology. In this article, we make a case for the importance of considering response mechanism function as a constraint on cognitive processes and emphasized links with the wider problem of behavioral action selection. First, we show that, contrary to previous suggestions, a well–known model of the Stroop task (Cohen, Dunbar, & McClelland, 1990) relies on the response mechanism for a key feature of its results—the interference–facilitation asymmetry. Second, we examine a variety of response mechanisms (including that in the model of Cohen et al., 1990) and show that they all follow a law analogous to Piéron's law in relating their input to reaction time. In particular, this is true of a decision mechanism not designed to explain RT data but based on a proposed solution to the general problem of action selection and grounded in the neurobiology of the vertebrate basal ganglia. Finally, we show that the dynamics of simple artificial neurons also support a Piéron–like law. \u

Publisher: Psychonomic Society Publications
Year: 2004
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