Confirmation Bias through Selective Overweighting of Choice-Consistent Evidence

Bharath Chandra Talluri, Anne E Urai, Konstantinos Tsetsos, Marius Usher, Tobias H Donner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

88 Citations (Scopus)


People's assessments of the state of the world often deviate systematically from the information available to them [1]. Such biases can originate from people's own decisions: committing to a categorical proposition, or a course of action, biases subsequent judgment and decision-making. This phenomenon, called confirmation bias [2], has been explained as suppression of post-decisional dissonance [3, 4]. Here, we provide insights into the underlying mechanism. It is commonly held that decisions result from the accumulation of samples of evidence informing about the state of the world [5-8]. We hypothesized that choices bias the accumulation process by selectively altering the weighting (gain) of subsequent evidence, akin to selective attention. We developed a novel psychophysical task to test this idea. Participants viewed two successive random dot motion stimuli and made two motion-direction judgments: a categorical discrimination after the first stimulus and a continuous estimation of the overall direction across both stimuli after the second stimulus. Participants' sensitivity for the second stimulus was selectively enhanced when that stimulus was consistent with the initial choice (compared to both, first stimuli and choice-inconsistent second stimuli). A model entailing choice-dependent selective gain modulation explained this effect better than several alternative mechanisms. Choice-dependent gain modulation was also established in another task entailing averaging of numerical values instead of motion directions. We conclude that intermittent choices direct selective attention during the evaluation of subsequent evidence, possibly due to decision-related feedback in the brain [9]. Our results point to a recurrent interplay between decision-making and selective attention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3128-3135.e8
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 8 Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2018 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.. All rights reserved.


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention/physiology
  • Bias
  • Brain/physiology
  • Choice Behavior/physiology
  • Computer Simulation
  • Decision Making/physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motion Perception/physiology
  • Psychometrics/methods
  • Psychophysics
  • Visual Perception/physiology
  • Young Adult


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