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Under threat weaker evidence is required to reach undesirable conclusions

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Witte,  K
Research Group Computational Principles of Intelligence, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;
Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Citation

Globig, L., Witte, K., Feng, G., & Sharot, T. (2021). Under threat weaker evidence is required to reach undesirable conclusions. The Journal of Neuroscience, Epub ahead. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3194-20.2021.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0008-B9F6-2
Abstract
Critical decisions, such as in domains ranging from medicine to finance, are often made under threatening circumstances that elicit stress and anxiety. The negative effects of such reactions on learning and decision-making have been repeatedly underscored. In contrast, here we show that perceived threat alters the process by which evidence is accumulated in a way that may be adaptive. Participants (n = 91) completed a sequential evidence sampling task in which they were incentivized to accurately judge whether they were in a desirable state, which was associated with greater rewards than losses, or an undesirable state, which was associated with greater losses than rewards. Prior to the task participants in the ‘threat group’ experienced a social-threat manipulation. Results show that perceived threat led to a reduction in the strength of evidence required to reach an undesirable judgement. Computational modelling revealed this was due to an increase in the relative rate by which negative information was accumulated. The effect of the threat manipulation was global, as the alteration to evidence accumulation was observed for information which was not directly related to the cause of the threat. Requiring weaker evidence to reach undesirable conclusions in threatening environments may be adaptive as it can lead to increased precautionary action.