Response time models separate single- and dual-process accounts of memory-based decisions

Authors: Laura Fontanesi, Sebastian Gluth, Peter M. Kraemer and Mikhail Spektor

Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, Vol. 28, 304–323, December, 2020

Human decisions often deviate from economic rationality and are influenced by cognitive biases. One such bias is the memory bias according to which people prefer choice options they have a better memory of—even when the options’ utilities are comparatively low. Although this phenomenon is well supported empirically, its cognitive foundation remains elusive. Here we test two conceivable computational accounts of the memory bias against each other. On the one hand, a single-process account explains the memory bias by assuming a single biased evidence-accumulation process in favor of remembered options. On the contrary, a dual-process account posits that some decisions are driven by a purely memory-driven process and others by a utility-maximizing one. We show that both accounts are indistinguishable based on choices alone as they make similar predictions with respect to the memory bias. However, they make qualitatively different predictions about response times. We tested the qualitative and quantitative predictions of both accounts on behavioral data from a memory-based decision-making task. Our results show that a single-process account provides a better account of the data, both qualitatively and quantitatively. In addition to deepening our understanding of memory-based decision-making, our study provides an example of how to rigorously compare single- versus dual-process models using empirical data and hierarchical Bayesian parameter estimation methods.