Hunt LT, Rutledge RB, Malalasekera WM, Kennerley SW, Dolan RJ
PLoS Biol. 2016 Nov 10;14(11):e2000638. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.2000638.
Information sampling is often biased towards seeking evidence that confirms one's prior beliefs. Despite such biases being a pervasive feature of human behavior, their underlying causes remain unclear. Many accounts of these biases appeal to limitations of human hypothesis testing and cognition, de facto evoking notions of bounded rationality, but neglect more basic aspects of behavioral control. Here, we investigated a potential role for Pavlovian approach in biasing which information humans will choose to sample. We collected a large novel dataset from 32,445 human subjects, making over 3 million decisions, who played a gambling task designed to measure the latent causes and extent of information-sampling biases. We identified three novel approach-related biases, formalized by comparing subject behavior to a dynamic programming model of optimal information gathering. These biases reflected the amount of information sampled ("positive evidence approach"), the selection of which information to sample ("sampling the favorite"), and the interaction between information sampling and subsequent choices ("rejecting unsampled options"). The prevalence of all three biases was related to a Pavlovian approach-avoid parameter quantified within an entirely independent economic decision task. Our large dataset also revealed that individual differences in the amount of information gathered are a stable trait across multiple gameplays and can be related to demographic measures, including age and educational attainment. As well as revealing limitations in cognitive processing, our findings suggest information sampling biases reflect the expression of primitive, yet potentially ecologically adaptive, behavioral repertoires. One such behavior is sampling from options that will eventually be chosen, even when other sources of information are more pertinent for guiding future action.