Understanding rule enforcement using drift diffusion models


Since their inception, drift diffusion models have been applied across a wide range of disciplines within psychology to uncover the mental processes that underlie perception, attention, and cognitive control. Our studies contribute to ongoing efforts to extend these models to abstract, social reasoning processes like moral or legal judgment. We presented participants with a set of social rules, while manipulating whether various behaviors violated the rule’s letter and/or its purpose-two independent standards by which to decide what constitutes a transgression. In this framework, cases that violate or comply with both a rule’s text and its purpose can be seen as congruent or ‘easy’ cases, and cases that elicit opposing verdicts as incongruent or ‘hard’ cases-in a manner analogous to widely-studied conflict tasks in cognitive psychology. We recorded 34,573 decisions made by 364 participants under soft time pressure, and investigated whether hierarchical drift diffusion modeling could explain various behavioral patterns in our data. This approach yielded three key insights: (1) judgments of conviction were faster than judgments of acquittal owing to an overall bias (z parameter) toward conviction; (2) incongruent cases produced longer reaction times than congruent cases (an interference effect), due to differences in the rate of evidence accumulation (v parameter) across case-types; and (3) increases in the ratio of congruent-to-incongruent cases amplified the interference effect on reaction times, by fostering greater response caution-revealed by a larger threshold (or a parameter). Thus, our studies document dissociable effects of the drift diffusion components on rule-based decision-making, and illustrate how the cognitive processes that subserve abstract and social decision-making tasks, such as the enforcement of communal and legal rules, may be illuminated through the drift diffusion framework.

Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (46)