Choice-confirmation bias and gradual perseveration in human reinforcement learning

Behav Neurosci. 2023 Feb;137(1):78-88. doi: 10.1037/bne0000541. Epub 2022 Nov 17.


Do we preferentially learn from outcomes that confirm our choices? In recent years, we investigated this question in a series of studies implementing increasingly complex behavioral protocols. The learning rates fitted in experiments featuring partial or complete feedback, as well as free and forced choices, were systematically found to be consistent with a choice-confirmation bias. One of the prominent behavioral consequences of the confirmatory learning rate pattern is choice hysteresis: that is, the tendency of repeating previous choices, despite contradictory evidence. However, choice-confirmatory pattern of learning rates may spuriously arise from not taking into consideration an explicit choice (gradual) perseveration term in the model. In the present study, we reanalyze data from four published papers (nine experiments; 363 subjects; 126,192 trials), originally included in the studies demonstrating or criticizing the choice-confirmation bias in human participants. We fitted two models: one featured valence-specific updates (i.e., different learning rates for confirmatory and disconfirmatory outcomes) and one additionally including gradual perseveration. Our analysis confirms that the inclusion of the gradual perseveration process in the model significantly reduces the estimated choice-confirmation bias. However, in all considered experiments, the choice-confirmation bias remains present at the meta-analytical level, and significantly different from zero in most experiments. Our results demonstrate that the choice-confirmation bias resists the inclusion of a gradual perseveration term, thus proving to be a robust feature of human reinforcement learning. We conclude by pointing to additional computational processes that may play an important role in estimating and interpreting the computational biases under scrutiny. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Feedback
  • Humans
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*