Decision-makers must often balance the desire to accumulate information with the costs of protracted deliberation. Optimal, reward-maximizing decision-making can require dynamic adjustment of this speed/accuracy trade-off over the course of a single decision. However, it is unclear whether humans are capable of such time-dependent adjustments. Here, we identify several signatures of time-dependency in human perceptual decision-making and highlight their possible neural source. Behavioural and model-based analyses reveal that subjects respond to deadline-induced speed pressure by lowering their criterion on accumulated perceptual evidence as the deadline approaches. In the brain, this effect is reflected in evidence-independent urgency that pushes decision-related motor preparation signals closer to a fixed threshold. Moreover, we show that global modulation of neural gain, as indexed by task-related fluctuations in pupil diameter, is a plausible biophysical mechanism for the generation of this urgency. These findings establish context-sensitive time-dependency as a critical feature of human decision-making.
Decision-making balances the benefits of additional information with the cost of time, but it is unclear whether humans adjust this balance within individual decisions. Here, authors show that we do make such adjustments to suit contextual demands and suggest that these are driven by modulation of neural gain.