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.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $4.92 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
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/).
Codes related to this paper are available on request from A.K.
Bahrami, B. et al. Optimally interacting minds. Science 329, 1081–1085 (2010).
Pulford, B. D., Colman, A. M., Buabang, E. K. & Krockow, E. M. The persuasive power of knowledge: testing the confidence heuristic. J. Exp. Psychol. Gen. 147, 1431–1444 (2018).
Anderson, C., Brion, S., Moore, D. A. & Kennedy, J. A. A status-enhancement account of overconfidence. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 103, 718–735 (2012).
Anderson, C. & Kilduff, G. J. Why do dominant personalities attain influence in face-to-face groups? The competence-signaling effects of trait dominance. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 96, 491–503 (2009).
Moore, D. A. et al. Confidence calibration in a multiyear geopolitical forecasting competition. Manag. Sci. 63, 3552–3565 (2017).
Pew Research Center. The Politics of Climate https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2016/10/PS_2016.10.04_Politics-of-Climate_FINAL.pdf (Pew Research Center, 2016).
Nickerson, R. S. Confirmation bias: a ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Rev. Gen. Psychol. 2, 175 (1998).
Bronfman, Z. Z. et al. Decisions reduce sensitivity to subsequent information. Proc. R. Soc. B 282, 20150228 (2015).
Klayman, J. & Ha, Y.-W. Confirmation, disconfirmation, and information in hypothesis testing. Psychol. Rev. 94, 211 (1987).
Talluri, B. C., Urai, A. E., Tsetsos, K., Usher, M. & Donner, T. H. Confirmation bias through selective overweighting of choice-consistent evidence. Curr. Biol. 28, 3128–3135.e8 (2018).
Haidt, J. The new synthesis in moral psychology. Science 316, 998–1002 (2007).
Taber, C. S. & Lodge, M. The illusion of choice in democratic politics: the unconscious impact of motivated political reasoning. Polit. Psychol. 37, 61–85 (2016).
Mercier, H. & Sperber, D. Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory. Behav. Brain Sci. 34, 57–74 (2011).
Kay, A. C., Gaucher, D., Napier, J. L., Callan, M. J. & Laurin, K. God and the government: testing a compensatory control mechanism for the support of external systems. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 95, 18–35 (2008).
Westen, D., Blagov, P. S., Harenski, K., Kilts, C. & Hamann, S. Neural bases of motivated reasoning: an fMRI study of emotional constraints on partisan political judgment in the 2004 U.S. Presidential election. J. Cogn. Neurosci. 18, 1947–1958 (2006).
Gilbert, D. T., Tafarodi, R. W. & Malone, P. S. You can’t not believe everything you read. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 65, 221–233 (1993).
Lovallo, D. & Kahneman, D. Delusions of success. Harv. Bus. Rev. 81, 56–63 (2003).
Doll, B. B. et al. Reduced susceptibility to confirmation bias in schizophrenia. Cogn. Affect. Behav. Neurosci. 14, 715–728 (2014).
Doll, B. B., Hutchison, K. E. & Frank, M. J. Dopaminergic genes predict individual differences in susceptibility to confirmation bias. J. Neurosci. 31, 6188–6198 (2011).
Yeung, N., Botvinick, M. M. & Cohen, J. D. The neural basis of error detection: conflict monitoring and the error-related negativity. Psychol. Rev. 111, 931–959 (2004).
Botvinick, M. M., Braver, T. S., Barch, D. M., Carter, C. S. & Cohen, J. D. Conflict monitoring and cognitive control. Psychol. Rev. 108, 624–652 (2001).
Botvinick, M. M., Cohen, J. D. & Carter, C. S. Conflict monitoring and anterior cingulate cortex: an update. Trends Cogn. Sci. 8, 539–546 (2004).
Shackman, A. J. et al. The integration of negative affect, pain, and cognitive control in the cingulate cortex. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 12, 154–167 (2011).
Bartoli, E. et al. Temporal dynamics of human frontal and cingulate neural activity during conflict and cognitive control. Cereb. Cortex 28, 3842–3856 (2017).
Fleming, S. M., Putten, E. J. & Daw, N. D. Neural mediators of changes of mind about perceptual decisions. Nat. Neurosci. 21, 617–624 (2018).
Kolling, N. et al. Value, search, persistence and model updating in anterior cingulate cortex. Nat. Neurosci. 19, 1280 (2016).
Kolling, N., Behrens, T., Wittmann, M. K. & Rushworth, M. Multiple signals in anterior cingulate cortex. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 37, 36–43 (2016).
Lak, A. et al. Orbitofrontal cortex is required for optimal waiting based on decision confidence. Neuron 84, 190–201 (2014).
Bonaccio, S. & Dalal, R. S. Advice taking and decision-making: an integrative literature review, and implications for the organizational sciences. Organ. Behav. Hum. Decis. Process 101, 127–151 (2006).
O’Connell, R. G. & Murphy, P. R. U-turns in the brain. Nat. Neurosci. 21, 461–462 (2018).
Edelson, M., Dudai, Y., Dolan, R. J. & Sharot, T. Brain substrates of recovery from misleading influence. J. Neurosci. 34, 7744–7753 (2014).
Quattrociocchi, W., Scala, A. & Sunstein, C. R. Echo Chambers on Facebook. (Social Science Research Network, 2016).
Taber, C. S. & Lodge, M. Motivated skepticism in the evaluation of political beliefs. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 50, 755–769 (2006).
Krug, M. K. & Carter, C. S. in Self Control in Society, Mind, and Brain (eds Hassin, R. et al.) 3–26 (Oxford University Press, 2010).
Iannaccone, R. et al. Conflict monitoring and error processing: new insights from simultaneous EEG–fMRI. NeuroImage 105, 395–407 (2015).
Holroyd, C. B. & Coles, M. G. H. The neural basis of human error processing: reinforcement learning, dopamine, and the error-related negativity. Psychol. Rev. 109, 679–709 (2002).
Hertz, U. et al. Neural computations underpinning the strategic management of influence in advice giving. Nat. Commun. 8, 2191 (2017).
Garrett, N., Lazzaro, S. C., Ariely, D. & Sharot, T. The brain adapts to dishonesty. Nat. Neurosci. 19, 1727–1732 (2016).
Charpentier, C. J., Moutsiana, C., Garrett, N. & Sharot, T. The brain’s temporal dynamics from a collective decision to individual action. J. Neurosci. 34, 5816–5823 (2014).
Hayes, A. F. Introduction to Mediation, Moderation, and Conditional Process Analysis (Guilford Press, 2013).
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.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
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
Sustainable Production and Consumption (2021)
Scientific Reports (2021)
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (2021)
The British Journal of Psychiatry (2020)