Valence-dependent belief updating: how age and brain architecture relate to asymmetric belief formation

Christina Moutsiana

Lecturer in Psychology, University of Westminster

Human decision-making is guided by beliefs of what may happen in the future, which are updated in response to new information. Whether new information will alter our views is influenced partially by the question: is the news good or bad? Specifically, people tend to alter self-relevant beliefs to a greater extent in response to good compared with bad information. This human tendency to discount bad news while incorporating good news into beliefs may help explain seemingly irrational risk taking. Understanding how this valence dependent bias develops with age is important because it can help us educate the age groups prone to engage in risky behaviour, such as adolescents, about danger. I will present data from teenagers and young adults indicating that asymmetric belief formation develops with age, with younger people showing a striking asymmetry in how they integrate valence dependent news into their beliefs. Our data demonstrate that this asymmetry is mediated by adequate computational use of positive but not negative estimation errors when altering beliefs. Next I will look at how the architecture of the developed (adult) brain relates to this bias. Decision neuroscience research has pointed that updating beliefs involves not only brain regions known to perform complex cognitive functions but also key structures for emotion. Therefore, how these regions interact might be important in asymmetric belief formation. Indeed, our MRI data identifies a frontal-subcortical network that is associated simultaneously with greater belief updating in response to good information and reduced belief updating in response to bad information.