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Confirmation bias in the utilization of others’ opinion strength

Abstract

Humans tend to discount information that undermines past choices and judgments. This confirmation bias has significant impact on domains ranging from politics to science and education. Little is known about the mechanisms underlying this fundamental characteristic of belief formation. Here we report a mechanism underlying the confirmation bias. Specifically, we provide evidence for a failure to use the strength of others’ disconfirming opinions to alter confidence in judgments, but adequate use when opinions are confirmatory. This bias is related to reduced neural sensitivity to the strength of others’ opinions in the posterior medial prefrontal cortex when opinions are disconfirming. Our results demonstrate that existing judgments alter the neural representation of information strength, leaving the individual less likely to alter opinions in the face of disagreement.

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Fig. 1: Experimental paradigm.
Fig. 2: Participants neglect the strength of disconfirming, but not confirming, opinions.
Fig. 3: Reduced sensitivity to the strength of disconfirming (relative to confirming) opinions in the pMFC.

Data availability

Anonymized behavioral data are available on GitHub (github.com/affective-brain-lab/NeuralConfirmation). Unthresholded group-level statistical maps are available on NeuroVault (https://neurovault.org/collections/TQENJOAJ/).

Code availability

Codes related to this paper are available on request from A.K.

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Acknowledgements

We thank J. Marks, F. Gesiarz, C. Kelly, E. Copland, S. Lazzaro, S. Fleming and Y. Wang for comments on previous versions of this manuscript. The research was funded by a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellowship grant no. 214268/Z/18/Z to T.S. and a Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellowship to P.R.M.

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A.K. and T.S. developed the research concept and A.K., T.S., T.L. and P.R.M designed the study. A.K. collected pilot data. A.H. collected data for the main study with guidance from T.L. and P.R.M. P.R.M. secured resources and equipment for data collection for the main study. A.K. analyzed the data with guidance from T.S. A.K. and T.S. drafted the manuscript, for which P.R.M. and T.L. provided comments. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Andreas Kappes or Tali Sharot.

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Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1 and 2 and Supplementary Modeling Note.

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Kappes, A., Harvey, A.H., Lohrenz, T. et al. Confirmation bias in the utilization of others’ opinion strength. Nat Neurosci 23, 130–137 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41593-019-0549-2

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