- Journal Article
Rights / licenseCreative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
People tend to update beliefs about their future outcomes in a valence-dependent way: they are likely to incorporate good news and to neglect bad news. However, belief formation is a complex process which depends not only on motivational factors such as the desire for favorable conclusions, but also on multiple cognitive variables such as prior beliefs, knowledge about personal vulnerabilities and resources, and the size of the probabilities and estimation errors. Thus, we applied computational modeling in order to test for valence-induced biases in updating while formally controlling for relevant cognitive factors. We compared biased and unbiased Bayesian models of belief updating, and specified alternative models based on reinforcement learning. The experiment consisted of 80 trials with 80 different adverse future life events. In each trial, participants estimated the base rate of one of these events and estimated their own risk of experiencing the event before and after being confronted with the actual base rate. Belief updates corresponded to the difference between the two self-risk estimates. Valence-dependent updating was assessed by comparing trials with good news (better-than-expected base rates) with trials with bad news (worse-than-expected base rates). After receiving bad relative to good news, participants' updates were smaller and deviated more strongly from rational Bayesian predictions, indicating a valence-induced bias. Model comparison revealed that the biased (i.e., optimistic) Bayesian model of belief updating better accounted for data than the unbiased (i.e., rational) Bayesian model, confirming that the valence of the new information influenced the amount of updating. Moreover, alternative computational modeling based on reinforcement learning demonstrated higher learning rates for good than for bad news, as well as a moderating role of personal knowledge. Finally, in this specific experimental context, the approach based on reinforcement learning was superior to the Bayesian approach. The computational validation of valence-dependent belief updating represents a novel support for a genuine optimism bias in human belief formation. Moreover, the precise control of relevant cognitive variables justifies the conclusion that the motivation to adopt the most favorable self-referential conclusions biases human judgments. Show more
Journal / seriesFrontiers in Psychology
Pages / Article No.
Subjectdesirability; motivation; optimism bias; computational modeling; Bayesian theorem; probability; belief updating; risk judgments
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