People tend to believe that their perceptions are veridical representations of the world, but also commonly report perceiving what they want to see or hear. It remains unclear whether this reflects an actual change in what people perceive or merely a bias in their responding. Here we manipulated the percept that participants wanted to see as they performed a visual categorization task. Even though the reward-maximizing strategy was to perform the task accurately, the manipulation biased participants’ perceptual judgements. Motivation increased neural activity selective for the motivationally relevant category, indicating a bias in participants’ neural representation of the presented image. Using a drift diffusion model, we decomposed motivated seeing into response and perceptual components. Response bias was associated with anticipatory activity in the nucleus accumbens, whereas perceptual bias tracked category-selective neural activity. Our results provide a computational description of how the drive for reward leads to inaccurate representations of the world.
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The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author on request. Behavioural data of both the reported experiment and the in-lab replication are available at: https://github.com/ycleong/MotivatedPerception. The unthresholded p-map of the motivation consistent–motivation inconsistent contrast is available at: https://neurovault.org/collections/EAAXGDRJ/images/62743/.
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We thank I. Ballard and members of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Laboratory for scientific discussions and helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. The research was supported by the Wu Tsai Neuroscience Institute NeuroChoice Initiative. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information: Primary Handling Editor: Mary Elizabeth Sutherland.
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