Parsing Information Flow in Speeded Cognitive Tasks: The Role of g in Perception and Decision Time

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Although the correlation between general cognitive ability (g) and performance on speeded cognitive tasks is well-established, there is need for a better understanding of how successive stages of processing contribute to this relationship. Previous research suggests that g is primarily associated with the rapidity of decision-making rather than perceptual processing of stimuli; the implication is that g should statistically interact with a manipulation affecting the difficulty of the decision process, while simultaneously failing to interact with a perceptual manipulation. We applied Sternberg’s method of additive factors to test this hypothesis in two reaction time tasks, each of which systematically manipulated the demands on perceptual acuity and decision-making. With a total of 773 participants, we found evidence of an interaction between a short-form measure of g and the decisional—but not perceptual—manipulations. This pattern was found in both number-comparison (Experiment 1) and tone-comparison (Experiment 2) tasks. Additionally, diffusion modeling of the Experiment 1 results revealed that the diffusion rate (v) is associated with g and affected by an informational attribute of the stimulus (numerical magnitude) but not a perceptual attribute (contrast); the nondecision time (Ter) is not associated with g and shows the opposite pattern of selective influence. Taken together, these findings add to the evidence for a theoretical framework partitioning reaction time into several processing stages, of which only the decisionmaking stage is associated with g.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1792-1809
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was funded by a University of Minnesota OVPR Grant-in- Aid of Research, Artistry and Scholarship (GIA). Raw data and R code used in key analyses are available on the Open Science Framework (OSF; The authors have no competing interests to declare.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Psychological Association


  • Cognitive ability
  • Diffusion modeling
  • G
  • Intelligence
  • Reaction time


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