Diffusion models of the flanker task: Discrete versus gradual attentional selection

Corey N. White, Roger Ratcliff, Jeffrey J. Starns

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

204 Scopus citations


The present study tested diffusion models of processing in the flanker task, in which participants identify a target that is flanked by items that indicate the same (congruent) or opposite response (incongruent). Single- and dual-process flanker models were implemented in a diffusion-model framework and tested against data from experiments that manipulated response bias, speed/accuracy tradeoffs, attentional focus, and stimulus configuration. There was strong mimcry among the models, and each captured the main trends in the data for the standard conditions. However, when more complex conditions were used, a single-process spotlight model captured qualitative and quantitative patterns that the dual-process models could not. Since the single-process model provided the best balance of fit quality and parsimony, the results indicate that processing in the simple versions of the flanker task is better described by gradual rather than discrete narrowing of attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)210-238
Number of pages29
JournalCognitive Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2011


  • Diffusion model
  • Dual process
  • Flanker task
  • Model selection
  • Single process
  • Visual attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Artificial Intelligence


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