Forming Beliefs: Why Valence Matters

Trends Cogn Sci. 2016 Jan;20(1):25-33. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2015.11.002. Epub 2015 Dec 15.


One of the most salient attributes of information is valence: whether a piece of news is good or bad. Contrary to classic learning theories, which implicitly assume beliefs are adjusted similarly regardless of valence, we review evidence suggesting that different rules and mechanisms underlie learning from desirable and undesirable information. For self-relevant beliefs this asymmetry generates a positive bias, with significant implications for individuals and society. We discuss the boundaries of this asymmetry, characterize the neural system supporting it, and describe how changes in this circuit are related to individual differences in behavior.

Keywords: belief; brain; emotion; learning; optimism; valence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Culture*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Social Values*