Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Cognitive bias


Humans possess a remarkable ability to discriminate structure from randomness in the environment. However, this ability appears to be systematically biased. This is nowhere more evident than in the Gambler’s Fallacy (GF)-the mistaken belief that observing an increasingly long sequence of “heads” from an unbiased coin makes the occurrence of “tails” on the next trial ever more likely. Although the GF appears to provide evidence of “cognitive bias,” a recent theoretical account (Hahn & Warren, 2009) has suggested the GF might be understandable if constraints on actual experience of random sources (such as attention and short term memory) are taken into account. Here we test this experiential account by exposing participants to 200 outcomes from a genuinely random (p = .5) Bernoulli process. All participants saw the same overall sequence; however, we manipulated experience across groups such that the sequence was divided into chunks of length 100, 10, or 5. Both before and after the exposure, participants (a) generated random sequences and (b) judged the randomness of presented sequences. In contrast to other accounts in the literature, the experiential account suggests that this manipulation will lead to systematic differences in postexposure behavior. Our data were strongly in line with this prediction and provide support for a general account of randomness perception in which biases are actually apt reflections of environmental statistics under experiential constraints. This suggests that deeper insight into human cognition may be gained if, instead of dismissing apparent biases as failings, we assume humans are rational under constraints. (PsycINFO Database Record

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Critical thinking, Cognition, Cognitive bias, Bias, Systemic bias


The present study investigated the effect of acute stress on attentional bias to threat using behavioral and ERP methods. Sixty-two male participants were randomly assigned to a stress condition (Trier Social Stress Test) or a control condition. To examine the impact of stress-induced cortisol on attentional bias to threat, participants in the stress group were split into Low- and High cortisol responders. All participants were then administered a modified dot probe task in which the cues were neutral and angry faces. Behavioral results showed a pattern of attentional bias toward threat in the Control group but not in the stress group. For the ERPs, the P100 peaked earlier for the angry-cued targets than the neutral-cued targets in the Control group, which suggests a rapid, adaptive response toward threat. However, this effect was not observed in the stress group, suggesting a suppressed attentional bias under stress. In addition, the stress group (including both Low and High cortisol responders) showed reduced P300 amplitude to target onset than the Control group. These results suggest that acute stress disrupts attentional bias to threat including a reduction in early bias to threat in addition to a subsequent change of attention allocation.

Concepts: Anxiety, Scientific method, Psychology, Attention, Metabolic syndrome, Cognitive bias, Stress


Peoples' subjective attitude towards costs such as, e.g., risk, delay or effort are key determinants of inter-individual differences in goal-directed behaviour. Thus, the ability to learn about others' prudent, impatient or lazy attitudes is likely to be critical for social interactions. Conversely, how adaptive such attitudes are in a given environment is highly uncertain. Thus, the brain may be tuned to garner information about how such costs ought to be arbitrated. In particular, observing others' attitude may change one’s uncertain belief about how to best behave in related difficult decision contexts. In turn, learning from others' attitudes is determined by one’s ability to learn about others' attitudes. We first derive, from basic optimality principles, the computational properties of such a learning mechanism. In particular, we predict two apparent cognitive biases that would arise when individuals are learning about others' attitudes: (i) people should overestimate the degree to which they resemble others (false-consensus bias), and (ii) they should align their own attitudes with others' (social influence bias). We show how these two biases non-trivially interact with each other. We then validate these predictions experimentally by profiling people’s attitudes both before and after guessing a series of cost-benefit arbitrages performed by calibrated artificial agents (which are impersonating human individuals).

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Critical thinking, Sociology, Cognition, Decision theory, Cognitive bias, Bias


In social animals, the fast detection of group members' emotional expressions promotes swift and adequate responses, which is crucial for the maintenance of social bonds and ultimately for group survival. The dot-probe task is a well-established paradigm in psychology, measuring emotional attention through reaction times. Humans tend to be biased toward emotional images, especially when the emotion is of a threatening nature. Bonobos have rich, social emotional lives and are known for their soft and friendly character. In the present study, we investigated (i) whether bonobos, similar to humans, have an attentional bias toward emotional scenes compared with conspecifics showing a neutral expression, and (ii) which emotional behaviors attract their attention the most. As predicted, results consistently showed that bonobos' attention was biased toward the location of the emotional versus neutral scene. Interestingly, their attention was grabbed most by images showing conspecifics such as sexual behavior, yawning, or grooming, and not as much-as is often observed in humans-by signs of distress or aggression. The results suggest that protective and affiliative behaviors are pivotal in bonobo society and therefore attract immediate attention in this species.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Sexual intercourse, Human, Hominidae, Cognitive bias, Emotion, Bonobo


Cognitive biases and personality traits (aversion to risk or ambiguity) may lead to diagnostic inaccuracies and medical errors resulting in mismanagement or inadequate utilization of resources. We conducted a systematic review with four objectives: 1) to identify the most common cognitive biases, 2) to evaluate the influence of cognitive biases on diagnostic accuracy or management errors, 3) to determine their impact on patient outcomes, and 4) to identify literature gaps.

Concepts: Psychology, Decision making, Critical thinking, Cognitive psychology, Cognitive bias


The purpose of this paper is to assess whether smokers adjust their beliefs in a pattern that is consistent with Cognitive Dissonance Theory. This is accomplished by examining the longitudinal pattern of belief change among smokers as their smoking behaviours change.

Concepts: Cognition, Cognitive bias, Cognitive dissonance, Social psychology


Cognitive dissonance theory proposes that choice produces negatively arousing cognitive conflict (called dissonance), which motivates the chooser to justify her decision by increasing her preference for the chosen option while decreasing her preference for the rejected option. At present, however, neural mechanisms of dissonance are poorly understood. To address this gap of knowledge, we scanned 24 young Americans as they made 60 choices between pairs of popular music CDs. As predicted, choices between CDs that were close (vs. distant) in attractiveness (referred to as difficult vs. easy choices) resulted in activations of the dorsal anterior cingulated (dACC), a brain region associated with cognitive conflict, and the left anterior insula (left aINS), a region often linked with aversive emotional arousal. Importantly, a separate analysis showed that choice-justifying attitude change was predicted by the in-choice signal intensity of the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), a region that is linked to self-processing. The three regions identified (dACC, left aINS, and PCC) were correlated, within-subjects, across choices. The results were interpreted to support the hypothesis that cognitive dissonance plays a key role in producing attitudes that justify the choice.

Concepts: Cognition, Cerebrum, Cognitive bias, Cognitive dissonance, Choice, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Attitude change


A growing body of evidence is documenting the significant role of cognitive factors in influencing gambling behaviors. Although measures of cognitive biases have been developed, further validation of these scales is needed among non-Western samples. The 21-item Gamblers' Belief Questionnaire was originally developed and validated by Steenbergh et al. (in Psychol. Addict. Behav., 16: 143-149, 2002). The scale then has been widely used in the gambling research of the West. The present study was designed to examine and validate the Chinese version of Gamblers' Belief Questionnaire (GBQ-C) using 258 Chinese participants. Confirmatory factor analyses indicated the 2-factor model provided a good fit to the data as evidenced by various model fit indices (CFI = .91, RMSEA = .08 and SRMR = .05). Additional evidence for the validity of the GBQ-C was provided by significant correlations with other relevant measures (range .40-.75). In sum, the present study provides support for the GBQ-C as a valuable tool for assessing gambling cognitions among Chinese samples.

Concepts: Psychology, Critical thinking, Validation, Cognition, Factor analysis, Cognitive bias, Anecdotal evidence


Palatable food induces general approach tendencies when compared to nonfood stimuli. For eating disorders, the modification of an attention bias toward food was proposed as a treatment option. Similar approaches have been efficient for other psychiatric conditions and, recently, successfully incorporated approach motivation. The direct impact of attentional biases on spontaneous natural behavior has hardly been investigated so far, although actions may serve as an intervention target, especially seeing the recent advances in the field of embodied cognition. In this study, we addressed the interplay of motor action execution and cognition when interacting with food objects. In a Virtual Reality (VR) setting, healthy participants repeatedly grasped or warded high-calorie food or hand-affordant ball objects using their own dominant hand. This novel experimental paradigm revealed an attention-like bias in hand-based actions: 3D objects of food were collected faster than ball objects, and this difference correlated positively with both individual body mass index and diet-related attitudes. The behavioral bias for food in hand movements complements several recent experimental and neurophysiological findings. Implications for the use of VR in the treatment of eating-related health problems are discussed.

Concepts: Psychology, Nutrition, Body mass index, Cognition, Cognitive science, Cognitive bias, Motivation, Bias


Depressive disorder is often associated with cognitive biases. In this study, we took a unique opportunity to investigate whether trait pessimism could predict vulnerability to stress-induced anhedonia in an animal model of depression. In a series of ambiguous-cue interpretation (ACI) tests, we identified animals displaying ‘pessimistic’ and ‘optimistic’ traits. Subsequently, the rats were subjected to chronic restraint, and the trait differences in response to stress were investigated using sucrose preference and ACI tests before, during and after the stress regime. Although stress resulted in anhedonia in both subgroups, it occurred faster and lasted longer in the ‘pessimistic’ compared to the ‘optimistic’ animals. Chronic stress exposure also increased the negative judgment bias in rats, although this effect was not dependent on the ‘pessimistic’ trait. For the first time, we demonstrated a link between cognitive judgment bias and vulnerability to stress-induced anhedonia in an animal model. We also introduced a cognitive biomarker, which may be of value for etiological depression studies.Neuropsychopharmacology accepted article preview online, 10 May 2013; doi:10.1038/npp.2013.116.

Concepts: Cognitive bias, Motivation, Major depressive disorder, Mood disorder, Dysthymia, Bias, Optimism, Pessimism