Article

Explicit representation of confidence informs future value-based decisions

  • Nature Human Behaviour volume 1, Article number: 0002 (2016)
  • doi:10.1038/s41562-016-0002
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Abstract

Humans can reflect on decisions and report variable levels of confidence. But why maintain an explicit representation of confidence for choices that have already been made and therefore cannot be undone? Here we show that an explicit representation of confidence is harnessed for subsequent changes of mind. Specifically, when confidence is low, participants are more likely to change their minds when the same choice is presented again, an effect that is most pronounced in participants with greater fidelity in their confidence reports. Furthermore, we show that choices reported with high confidence follow a more consistent pattern (fewer transitivity violations). Finally, by tracking participants’ eye movements, we demonstrate that lower-level gaze dynamics can track uncertainty but do not directly impact changes of mind. These results suggest that an explicit and accurate representation of confidence has a positive impact on the quality of future value-based decisions.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the Wellcome Trust and Royal Society (Henry Dale Fellowship no. 102612/Z/13/Z to B.D.M.) and the Economics and Social Research Council (PhD scholarship for T.F.). The funders had no role in the study design, the data collection and analysis, the decision to publish, or the preparation of the manuscript. We would like to thank Y. Yamamoto for sharing the methods he developed to rank choice in experiment 1 and C. Street and S. Bobadilla Suarez for help in collecting the data and pre-processing the eye-tracking raw data used in experiment 1. We also thank C. Ruff for suggesting an appropriate name for the GSF variable.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EB, UK

    • Tomas Folke
  2. Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen, Rolighedsvej 25, DK-1958 Frederiksberg C, Copenhagen, Denmark

    • Catrine Jacobsen
  3. University College London, Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging, 12 Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG, UK

    • Stephen M. Fleming
  4. Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, 17–19 Queen Square, London WC1N 3AR, UK

    • Benedetto De Martino

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Contributions

B.D.M., C.J. and S.M.F. designed the first experiment reported in this paper. The data for the first experiment were collected by C.J. The second experiment was designed by T.F. and B.D.M. The data for the second experiment were collected by T.F., and the data from both experiments were analysed by T.F. The article was written by B.D.M. and T.F. All authors revised the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Benedetto De Martino.

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary information

    Supplementary Figures 1–7, Supplementary Tables 1–16, Supplementary Methods and Supplementary Results