Perceptual confidence neglects decision-incongruent evidence in the brain


Our perceptual experiences are accompanied by a subjective sense of certainty. These confidence judgements typically correlate meaningfully with the probability that the relevant decision is correct1,2,3,4,5,6, bolstering prevailing opinion that both perceptual decisions and confidence optimally reflect the probability of having made a correct decision6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13. However, recent behavioural reports suggest that confidence computations overemphasize information supporting a decision, while selectively down-weighting evidence for other possible choices14,15,16,17,18,19. This view remains controversial, and supporting neurobiological evidence has been lacking. Here we use intracranial electrophysiological recordings in humans together with machine-learning techniques to demonstrate that perceptual decisions and confidence rely on spatiotemporally separable neural representations in a face/house discrimination task. We then use normative computational models to show that confidence relies excessively on evidence supporting a decision (for example, face evidence for a ‘face’ decision), even while decisions themselves reflect the optimal balance of all evidence (for example, both face and house evidence). Thus, confidence may not reflect a readout of the probability of being correct; instead, observers may sacrifice optimality in favour of self-consistency20 in the face of limited neural and computational resources. Although seemingly suboptimal, this strategy may reflect the inference problem that perceptual systems are evolutionarily optimized to solve.

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Figure 1: Behavioural task and results.
Figure 2: Spatiotemporal dissociation between ‘decision’ and ‘confidence’ decoding.
Figure 3: Choice probability analyses show that confidence computations were insensitive to decision-incongruent evidence.
Figure 4: Violations of the normative model for confidence but not accuracy.


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This work is supported by funding from the Templeton Foundation (grant 21569 to H.L.) and the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NIH R01 NS088628 to H.L.). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript. We thank U. Maoz for discussion on some technical issues regarding analysis.

Author information

M.A.K.P. and H.L. together developed the key theoretical ideas behind the project, analysed the data and wrote the paper. H.L., T.T., E.H. and M.D. designed the behavioral paradigm and initiated project planning. T.T. and M.D. were primarily responsible for data collection. B.M., Y.D.K. and M.D. contributed to data analysis. W.D., R.K. and O.D. contributed to data collection and overcoming logistical challenges. T.T. oversaw the logistical issues and planning involved in the entire project.

Correspondence to Megan A. K. Peters.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Results, Supplementary Figures 1–13, Supplementary Tables 1–8, and Supplementary Notes.

Supplementary Dataset

MNI coordinates of all electrodes.

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Peters, M., Thesen, T., Ko, Y. et al. Perceptual confidence neglects decision-incongruent evidence in the brain. Nat Hum Behav 1, 0139 (2017).

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