Summary: Researchers report confirmation bias may not be the only factor that influences who people sample information and make decisions that may seem irrational.
Pavlovian approach, like confirmation bias, may underlie behaviors that seem irrational.
The way people make decisions often seems irrational. One explanation for this behavior is that they seek evidence that confirms what they already believe, a phenomenon called ‘confirmation bias’. But new research in open-access journal PLOS Biology suggests that confirmation bias may not be the only factor that influences how people sample information. The tendency to choose items associated with rewards–known as ‘Pavlovian approach’ –can also bias the information people choose to sample, according to Laurence Hunt from University College London, United Kingdom, and his colleagues.
It’s known that Pavlovian approach affects how animals and people learn as well as what they pay attention to, so the researchers thought this behavior might also bias the information people choose to sample. To test this idea, they collected data from more than 30,000 people who played a gambling card game via a smartphone app, which included more than 3 million decisions. The game involved tasks such as selecting the row of cards containing those that were biggest or smallest. Players were trying to score points, and could use some of their previously earned points to look at cards –that is, sample locations– to help them decide which one to select. To see if the way the participants made decisions was biased, the researchers compared their choices with those predicted by a model of the best possible actions.
The researchers identified three biases in the way participants sample information: the first influenced where people sought that information, the second influenced when they stopped seeking it, and the third influenced how they used information to select cards. Each bias was related to Pavlovian approach: that is, choices were biased towards a location more likely to yield a reward. Interestingly, subjects’ tendency to sample information increased with education level and age, while game performance rose with education level but dropped with age.
Comparison with the model of optimal information gathering showed that the three biases were irrational in the context of the game. However, the researchers suggest that information sampling biases that are driven by Pavlovian approach are likely to be adaptive in the natural world. When making foraging decisions such as staying in or leaving an area, for example, it may be adaptive to select the most valuable alternative first, and then accept or reject it based on further information about its value. The researchers posit that such behaviors could explain decisions that seem irrational: while advantageous to our evolutionary ancestors, these primitive behaviors may bias information sampling even when they are irrelevant, thus leading to suboptimal choices amongst people today.
About this genetics research article
Funding: Astor Foundation received by WMNM. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Wellcome Trust (grant number 098830/Z/12/Z, 096689/Z/11/Z, 098362/Z/12/Z, 091593/Z/10/Z, 101252/Z/13/Z).received by LTH, SWK and RJD. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Max Planck Society received by RBR and RJD. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. Rosetrees’ Trust received by WMNM. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
Source: Laurence T. Hunt – PLOS Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Hunt et al./PLOS Biology. Original Research: Full open access research for “Approach-Induced Biases in Human Information Sampling” by Laurence T. Hunt, Robb B. Rutledge, W. M. Nishantha Malalasekera, Steven W. Kennerley, and Raymond J. Dolan in PLOS Biology. Published online November 10 2016 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.2000638
Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
[cbtabs][cbtab title=”MLA”]PLOS “Primitive Reward-Driven Behaviors May Bias the Information People Choose to Sample.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 11 November 2016. <https://neurosciencenews.com/pavlovian-behavior-irrationality-5486/>.[/cbtab][cbtab title=”APA”]PLOS (2016, November 11). Primitive Reward-Driven Behaviors May Bias the Information People Choose to Sample. NeuroscienceNew. Retrieved November 11, 2016 from https://neurosciencenews.com/pavlovian-behavior-irrationality-5486/[/cbtab][cbtab title=”Chicago”]PLOS “Primitive Reward-Driven Behaviors May Bias the Information People Choose to Sample.” https://neurosciencenews.com/pavlovian-behavior-irrationality-5486/ (accessed November 11, 2016).[/cbtab][/cbtabs]
Approach-Induced Biases in Human Information Sampling
Information sampling is often biased towards seeking evidence that confirms one’s prior beliefs. Despite such biases being a pervasive feature of human behavior, their underlying causes remain unclear. Many accounts of these biases appeal to limitations of human hypothesis testing and cognition, de facto evoking notions of bounded rationality, but neglect more basic aspects of behavioral control. Here, we investigated a potential role for Pavlovian approach in biasing which information humans will choose to sample. We collected a large novel dataset from 32,445 human subjects, making over 3 million decisions, who played a gambling task designed to measure the latent causes and extent of information-sampling biases. We identified three novel approach-related biases, formalized by comparing subject behavior to a dynamic programming model of optimal information gathering. These biases reflected the amount of information sampled (“positive evidence approach”), the selection of which information to sample (“sampling the favorite”), and the interaction between information sampling and subsequent choices (“rejecting unsampled options”). The prevalence of all three biases was related to a Pavlovian approach-avoid parameter quantified within an entirely independent economic decision task. Our large dataset also revealed that individual differences in the amount of information gathered are a stable trait across multiple gameplays and can be related to demographic measures, including age and educational attainment. As well as revealing limitations in cognitive processing, our findings suggest information sampling biases reflect the expression of primitive, yet potentially ecologically adaptive, behavioral repertoires. One such behavior is sampling from options that will eventually be chosen, even when other sources of information are more pertinent for guiding future action.
“Approach-Induced Biases in Human Information Sampling” by Laurence T. Hunt, Robb B. Rutledge, W. M. Nishantha Malalasekera, Steven W. Kennerley, and Raymond J. Dolan in PLOS Biology. Published online November 10 2016 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.2000638