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Under threat weaker evidence is required to reach undesirable conclusions.

Globig, LK; Witte, K; Feng, G; Sharot, T; (2021) Under threat weaker evidence is required to reach undesirable conclusions. Journal of Neuroscience , Article JN-RM-3194-20. 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3194-20.2021. (In press). Green open access

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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.Significant Statement:To make good judgments people gather information. As information is often unlimited a decision has to be made as to when the data is sufficiently strong to reach a conclusion. Here, we show that this decision is significantly influenced by perceived threat. In particular under threat the rate of negative information accumulation increased, such that weaker evidence was required to reach an undesirable conclusion. Such modulation could be adaptive as it can result in enhanced cautious behavior in dangerous environments.

Type: Article
Title: Under threat weaker evidence is required to reach undesirable conclusions.
Location: United States
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3194-20.2021
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3194-20.2021
Language: English
Additional information: This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license, which permits unrestricted use, distribution and reproduction in any medium provided that the original work is properly attributed.
Keywords: Threat, Anxiety, Stress, Evidence Accumulation, Valence, Sequential Sampling
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Experimental Psychology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10131241
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