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  The dynamical interaction between attribution and belief: Evidence from a novel task

Zamfir, E., & Dayan, P. (2019). The dynamical interaction between attribution and belief: Evidence from a novel task. Poster presented at Ninth International Symposium on Biology of Decision Making (SBDM 2019), Oxford, UK.

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Zamfir, E, Author
Dayan, P1, 2, Author              
1Department of Computational Neuroscience, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society, ou_3017468              
2Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society, Spemannstrasse 38, 72076 Tübingen, DE, ou_1497794              


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 Abstract: Learning to predict one’s causal impact on the world by correctly assigning credit or blame for past outcomes to one’s previous actions is essential for decision-making. This is challenging, since the extent to which outcomes are due to one’s own actions, rather than other people’s, or environmental circumstances is often unknown, and must be inferred. Attribution, and its implications for the maintenance of beliefs about one’s abilities and effects, has been suggested as going awry in various psychiatric disorders. In particular, “negative attributional style” is correlated with vulnerability to depression, but of questionable reliability as predictor of depression onset [1]. Bentall [2] suggested that this is because attributional style is not fixed, but interacts with the dynamics of beliefs about the self. Detecting such interactions would require extended time series of both attribution and self-beliefs - something that is currently lacking. We therefore designed and administered a novel task to quantify the relationships between attributions and beliefs. Subjects repeatedly played a game of skill or watched 'another subject' do so (actually their own previous trials), whilst making attributions about outcomes and estimating how skilled they/the 'other' are. We investigated the effect of attributions on skill estimates and the effect of reported skill on attributions – in both cases for beliefs about the self versus the ‘other’. We also measured reaction times. We find that participants used outcomes to update their estimates of their own and ‘other’s skill, and they did so differently for losses attributed internally vs externally (KS test p self, ‘other’ = 0, Hedges corrected d self = 0.19, ‘other’ = 0.35 ), but not for wins. A comparison between different models of belief updating favors accounts with different learning rates for internal vs external attributions. Conversely, we find that for both self and ‘other’, subjects are more likely to attribute wins, and less likely to attribute losses, internally in the case of high estimated skill (bottom vs top quartile skill responses repeated measures t-test self p = 0.03, Hedges d = 0.36, ‘other’ p= 0, Hedges d= 1.05 ) and losses (self p = 0.003, d=0.47, ‘other’ p=0 , d=1.09). We also find differences in the RTs for reporting skill: subjects do so significantly faster after wins vs losses (repeated measures t test p = 0.013, Hedges corrected d= 0.25) and after outcomes attributed internally vs externally (repeated measures t test p =0.0066 , Hedges corrected d=0.26 ). They are also significantly faster in reporting their own vs the ‘other’s skill(repeated measures t test p =0.0035, Hedges corrected d= 0.54). Our task quantifies changes in, and interactions between, attribution propensities and beliefs about the self/’other’. We found differences in such interactions when processing wins vs losses, consistent with positive belief maintenance plus sensitivity to sources of learning about negative avoidable outcomes. We find similar mechanisms for self and other, but stronger effects for the latter, which might stem from greater complexity in the more emotionally salient self condition.


 Dates: 2019-05
 Publication Status: Published online
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Title: Ninth International Symposium on Biology of Decision Making (SBDM 2019)
Place of Event: Oxford, UK
Start-/End Date: 2019-05-27 - 2019-05-29

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Title: Ninth International Symposium on Biology of Decision Making (SBDM 2019)
Source Genre: Proceedings
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Pages: - Volume / Issue: - Sequence Number: 119 Start / End Page: 177 - 178 Identifier: -