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Optimism as a prior belief about the probability of future reward


Stankevicius, Aistis; Huys, Quentin J M; Kalra, Aditi; Seriès, Peggy (2014). Optimism as a prior belief about the probability of future reward. PLoS Computational Biology, 10(5):e1003605.

Abstract

Optimists hold positive a priori beliefs about the future. In Bayesian statistical theory, a priori beliefs can be overcome by experience. However, optimistic beliefs can at times appear surprisingly resistant to evidence, suggesting that optimism might also influence how new information is selected and learned. Here, we use a novel Pavlovian conditioning task, embedded in a normative framework, to directly assess how trait optimism, as classically measured using self-report questionnaires, influences choices between visual targets, by learning about their association with reward progresses. We find that trait optimism relates to an a priori belief about the likelihood of rewards, but not losses, in our task. Critically, this positive belief behaves like a probabilistic prior, i.e. its influence reduces with increasing experience. Contrary to findings in the literature related to unrealistic optimism and self-beliefs, it does not appear to influence the iterative learning process directly.

Abstract

Optimists hold positive a priori beliefs about the future. In Bayesian statistical theory, a priori beliefs can be overcome by experience. However, optimistic beliefs can at times appear surprisingly resistant to evidence, suggesting that optimism might also influence how new information is selected and learned. Here, we use a novel Pavlovian conditioning task, embedded in a normative framework, to directly assess how trait optimism, as classically measured using self-report questionnaires, influences choices between visual targets, by learning about their association with reward progresses. We find that trait optimism relates to an a priori belief about the likelihood of rewards, but not losses, in our task. Critically, this positive belief behaves like a probabilistic prior, i.e. its influence reduces with increasing experience. Contrary to findings in the literature related to unrealistic optimism and self-beliefs, it does not appear to influence the iterative learning process directly.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:04 Faculty of Medicine > Institute of Biomedical Engineering
Dewey Decimal Classification:170 Ethics
610 Medicine & health
Language:English
Date:22 May 2014
Deposited On:26 Feb 2015 14:32
Last Modified:14 Feb 2018 23:22
Publisher:Public Library of Science (PLoS)
ISSN:1553-734X
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:PubMed ID. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003605
PubMed ID:24853098

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