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Confidence predicts speed-accuracy tradeoff for subsequent decisions in humans

  1. Kobe Desender  Is a corresponding author
  2. Annika Boldt
  3. Tom Verguts
  4. Tobias H Donner
  1. University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Germany
  2. University College London, United Kingdom
  3. Ghent University, Belgium
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2019;8:e43499 doi: 10.7554/eLife.43499


When external feedback about decision outcomes is lacking, agents need to adapt their decision policies based on an internal estimate of the correctness of their choices (i.e., decision confidence). We hypothesized that agents use confidence to continuously update the tradeoff between the speed and accuracy of their decisions: When confidence is low in one decision, the agent needs more evidence before committing to a choice in the next decision, leading to slower but more accurate decisions. We tested this hypothesis by fitting a bounded accumulation decision model to behavioral data from three different perceptual choice tasks. Decision bounds indeed depended on the reported confidence on the previous trial, independent of objective accuracy. This increase in decision bound was predicted by a centro-parietal EEG component sensitive to confidence. We conclude that internally computed neural signals of confidence predict the ongoing adjustment of decision policies.

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Author details

  1. Kobe Desender

    Department of Neurophysiology and Pathophysiology, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-5462-4260
  2. Annika Boldt

    Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, United Kingdom
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
  3. Tom Verguts

    Department of Experimental Psychology, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
  4. Tobias H Donner

    Department of Neurophysiology and Pathophysiology, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany
    Competing interests
    Tobias H Donner, Reviewing editor, eLife.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-7559-6019


Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (FWO [PEGASUS]² Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow)

  • Kobe Desender

Economic and Social Research Council (PhD studentship)

  • Annika Boldt

Wellcome (Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship)

  • Annika Boldt

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DO 1240/2-1)

  • Tobias H Donner

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DO 1240/3-1)

  • Tobias H Donner

Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (G010419N)

  • Kobe Desender
  • Tom Verguts

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.


Human subjects: Written informed consent and consent to publish was obtained prior to participiation. All procedures were approved by the local ethics committee of the University Medical Center, Hamburg-Eppendorf (PV5512).

Reviewing Editor

  1. Roozbeh Kiani, New York University, United States

Publication history

  1. Received: November 8, 2018
  2. Accepted: August 16, 2019
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: August 20, 2019 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: August 27, 2019 (version 2)


© 2019, Desender et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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