Humans actively sample evidence to support prior beliefs

Elife. 2022 Apr 11:11:e71768. doi: 10.7554/eLife.71768.


No one likes to be wrong. Previous research has shown that participants may underweight information incompatible with previous choices, a phenomenon called confirmation bias. In this paper, we argue that a similar bias exists in the way information is actively sought. We investigate how choice influences information gathering using a perceptual choice task and find that participants sample more information from a previously chosen alternative. Furthermore, the higher the confidence in the initial choice, the more biased information sampling becomes. As a consequence, when faced with the possibility of revising an earlier decision, participants are more likely to stick with their original choice, even when incorrect. Critically, we show that agency controls this phenomenon. The effect disappears in a fixed sampling condition where presentation of evidence is controlled by the experimenter, suggesting that the way in which confirmatory evidence is acquired critically impacts the decision process. These results suggest active information acquisition plays a critical role in the propagation of strongly held beliefs over time.

Keywords: confirmation bias; decision-making; human; information sampling; neuroscience.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bias*
  • Humans