Humans actively sample evidence to support prior beliefs

  1. Paula Kaanders  Is a corresponding author
  2. Pradyumna Sepulveda
  3. Tomas Folke
  4. Pietro Ortoleva
  5. Benedetto De Martino  Is a corresponding author
  1. University of Oxford, United Kingdom
  2. University College London, United Kingdom
  3. Rutgers University, United States
  4. Princeton University, United States

Abstract

No one likes to be wrong. Previous research has shown that participants may underweight information incompatible with previous choices, a phenomenon called confirmation bias. In this paper we argue that a similar bias exists in the way information is actively sought. We investigate how choice influences information gathering using a perceptual choice task and find that participants sample more information from a previously chosen alternative. Furthermore, the higher the confidence in the initial choice, the more biased information sampling becomes. As a consequence, when faced with the possibility of revising an earlier decision, participants are more likely to stick with their original choice, even when incorrect. Critically, we show that agency controls this phenomenon. The effect disappears in a fixed sampling condition where presentation of evidence is controlled by the experimenter, suggesting that the way in which confirmatory evidence is acquired critically impacts the decision process. These results suggest active information acquisition plays a critical role in the propagation of strongly held beliefs over time.

Data availability

All data is available on the lab GitHub page (https://github.com/BDMLab).

The following data sets were generated

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Paula Kaanders

    Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
    For correspondence
    paula.kaanders@psy.ox.ac.uk
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-5068-1946
  2. Pradyumna Sepulveda

    Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, United Kingdom
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-0159-6777
  3. Tomas Folke

    Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, Rutgers University, Newark, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
  4. Pietro Ortoleva

    Department of Economics, Princeton University, Princeton, United States
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-5943-6621
  5. Benedetto De Martino

    Institute Cognitive of Neuroscience, University College London, London, United Kingdom
    For correspondence
    benedettodemartino@gmail.com
    Competing interests
    The authors declare that no competing interests exist.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-3555-2732

Funding

Wellcome Trust (Henry Dale Fellowship)

  • Benedetto De Martino

Royal Society (Henry Dale Fellowship)

  • Benedetto De Martino

Chilean National Agency for Research and Development (Scholarship)

  • Pradyumna Sepulveda

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

Ethics

Human subjects: All participants signed a consent form and both studies were done following the approval given by the University of Cambridge, Cambridge Psychology Research Ethics Committee (PRE.2015.095).

Reviewing Editor

  1. Valentin Wyart, École normale supérieure, PSL University, INSERM, France

Publication history

  1. Received: June 29, 2021
  2. Preprint posted: June 30, 2021 (view preprint)
  3. Accepted: April 8, 2022
  4. Accepted Manuscript published: April 11, 2022 (version 1)
  5. Version of Record published: April 25, 2022 (version 2)
  6. Version of Record updated: June 28, 2022 (version 3)

Copyright

© 2022, Kaanders 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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  1. Paula Kaanders
  2. Pradyumna Sepulveda
  3. Tomas Folke
  4. Pietro Ortoleva
  5. Benedetto De Martino
(2022)
Humans actively sample evidence to support prior beliefs
eLife 11:e71768.
https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.71768

Further reading

    1. Neuroscience
    Charlotte Arlt et al.
    Research Article Updated

    Neural activity in the mammalian cortex has been studied extensively during decision tasks, and recent work aims to identify under what conditions cortex is actually necessary for these tasks. We discovered that mice with distinct cognitive experiences, beyond sensory and motor learning, use different cortical areas and neural activity patterns to solve the same navigation decision task, revealing past learning as a critical determinant of whether cortex is necessary for goal-directed navigation. We used optogenetics and calcium imaging to study the necessity and neural activity of multiple cortical areas in mice with different training histories. Posterior parietal cortex and retrosplenial cortex were mostly dispensable for accurate performance of a simple navigation task. In contrast, these areas were essential for the same simple task when mice were previously trained on complex tasks with delay periods or association switches. Multiarea calcium imaging showed that, in mice with complex-task experience, single-neuron activity had higher selectivity and neuron–neuron correlations were weaker, leading to codes with higher task information. Therefore, past experience is a key factor in determining whether cortical areas have a causal role in goal-directed navigation.