Optimism as a Prior Belief about the Probability of Future Reward

Aistis Stankevicius, Quentin J. M. Huys, Aditi Kalra, Peggy Seriès, Yonatan Loewenstein (Editor)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Optimists hold positive a priori beliefs about the future. In Bayesian statistical theory, a priori beliefs can be overcome by experience. However, optimistic beliefs can at times appear surprisingly resistant to evidence, suggesting that optimism might also influence how new information is selected and learned. Here, we use a novel Pavlovian conditioning task, embedded in a normative framework, to directly assess how trait optimism, as classically measured using self-report questionnaires, influences choices between visual targets, by learning about their association with reward progresses. We find that trait optimism relates to an a priori belief about the likelihood of rewards, but not losses, in our task. Critically, this positive belief behaves like a probabilistic prior, i.e. its influence reduces with increasing experience. Contrary to findings in the literature related to unrealistic optimism and self-beliefs, it does not appear to influence the iterative learning process directly.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e1003605
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Volume10
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 May 2014

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