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Journal Article

Humans show a higher preference for stimuli that are predictive relative to those that are predictable


Trapp,  Sabrina
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
Department of Psychology, Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, Germany;

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Braem, S., & Trapp, S. (2019). Humans show a higher preference for stimuli that are predictive relative to those that are predictable. Psychological Research, 83(3), 567-573. doi:10.1007/s00426-017-0935-x.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002E-2EA5-1
Recent studies suggest that humans prefer information that is linked to the process of prediction. Yet it remains to be specified whether preference judgments are biased to information that can be predicted, or information that enables to predict. We here use a serial reaction time task to disentangle these two options. In a first learning phase, participants were exposed to a continuous stream of arbitrary shapes while performing a go/no-go task. Embedded in this stream were hidden pairs of go-stimuli (e.g., shape A was always followed by shape B). Data show faster reaction times to predictable shapes (i.e., shape B) as compared to random and predictive shapes (i.e., shape A), indicating that participants learned the regularities and anticipated upcoming information. Importantly, in a subsequent, unannounced forced-choice preference task, the shapes that were predictive of others were significantly more preferred over random shapes than shapes that could be predicted. Because both the reaction time benefit in the learning phase and the effect in the preference phase could be considered rather small, we studied the relation between both. Interestingly, the preference correlated with the reaction time benefit from the learning phase. A closer look at this correlation further suggested that the difference in preference was only observed when participants picked up the contingencies between predictive and predictable shapes. This study adds evidence to the idea that prediction processes are not only fundamental for cognition, but contribute to the way we evaluate our external world.