Article in SpringerLink Behavior Research Methods

April, 2021 DPZ published the work “The cone method: Inferring decision times from single-trial 3D movement trajectories in choice behavior


Ongoing goal-directed movements can be rapidly adjusted following new environmental information, e.g., when chasing pray or foraging. This makes movement trajectories in go-before-you-know decision-making a suitable behavioral readout of the ongoing decision process. Yet, existing methods of movement analysis are often based on statistically comparing two groups of trial-averaged trajectories and are not easily applied to three-dimensional data, preventing them from being applicable to natural free behavior. We developed and tested the cone method to estimate the point of overt commitment (POC) along a single two- or three-dimensional trajectory, i.e., the position where the movement is adjusted towards a newly selected spatial target. In Experiment 1, we established a “ground truth” data set in which the cone method successfully identified the experimentally constrained POCs across a wide range of all but the shallowest adjustment angles. In Experiment 2, we demonstrate the power of the method in a typical decision-making task with expected decision time differences known from previous findings. The POCs identified by cone method matched these expected effects. In both experiments, we compared the cone method’s single trial performance with a trial-averaging method and obtained comparable results. We discuss the advantages of the single-trajectory cone method over trial-averaging methods and possible applications beyond the examples presented in this study. The cone method provides a distinct addition to existing tools used to study decisions during ongoing movement behavior, which we consider particularly promising towards studies of non-repetitive free behavior.

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