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Information about action outcomes differentially affects learning from self-determined versus imposed choices


The valence of new information influences learning rates in humans: good news tends to receive more weight than bad news. We investigated this learning bias in four experiments, by systematically manipulating the source of required action (free versus forced choices), outcome contingencies (low versus high reward) and motor requirements (go versus no-go choices). Analysis of model-estimated learning rates showed that the confirmation bias in learning rates was specific to free choices, but was independent of outcome contingencies. The bias was also unaffected by the motor requirements, thus suggesting that it operates in the representational space of decisions, rather than motoric actions. Finally, model simulations revealed that learning rates estimated from the choice-confirmation model had the effect of maximizing performance across low- and high-reward environments. We therefore suggest that choice-confirmation bias may be adaptive for efficient learning of action–outcome contingencies, above and beyond fostering person-level dispositions such as self-esteem.

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Fig. 1: Schematic of the trial procedure and stimuli.
Fig. 2: Behavioural results.
Fig. 3: Parameter results of the full model from all four experiments.
Fig. 4: Model comparison results from all four experiments.
Fig. 5: Model comparison from experiment 2.
Fig. 6: Comparison of the winning model (3α) with a model with a simple perseveration parameter.
Fig. 7: Learning rate analysis and model comparison for H&L models.
Fig. 8: Valence-dependent learning biases as a function of the choice type, execution mode and outcome type.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the GitHub repository (

Code availability

Custom code scripts have been made available on the GitHub repository ( Additional modified scripts can be accessed upon request.


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V.C. was supported by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR) grants ANR-17-EURE-0017 (Frontiers in Cognition), ANR-10-IDEX-0001-02 PSL (program ‘Investissements d’Avenir’) and ANR-16-CE37-0012-01 (ANR JCJ) and ANR-19-CE37-0014-01 (ANR PRC). H.T. was supported by a PSL/ENS studentship. M.V. was supported by FIRE (‘Programme Bettencourt’) and by a Région Île-de-France studentship. P.H. was supported by the Chaire Blaise Pascal of the Région Île-de-France. S.P. was supported by an ATIP-Avenir grant (R16069JS), the Programme Emergence(s) de la Ville de Paris, the Fyssen Foundation and the Fondation Schlumberger pour l’Education et la Recherche (FSER). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

Author information




V.C., S.P. and P.H. developed the study concept. Testing and data collection were performed by H.T. and M.V. H.V. helped to write the Psychtoolbox script for data collection. Data analysis was performed by V.C., H.T., M.V. and S.P. V.C. and H.T. drafted the manuscript. S.P. and P.H. provided critical revisions. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.

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Correspondence to Valérian Chambon or Héloïse Théro or Stefano Palminteri.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Primary Handling Editor: Marike Schiffer.

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Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Results, Supplementary Figs. 1–3, Supplementary Tables 1–3 and Supplementary References.

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Chambon, V., Théro, H., Vidal, M. et al. Information about action outcomes differentially affects learning from self-determined versus imposed choices. Nat Hum Behav 4, 1067–1079 (2020).

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