Evaluating one's learning performance relies on how confident one feel about her decisions. But can our ability to learn and to judge our decisions be influenced by economic factors? In other words, do we judge our performance identically when faced with a situation that involves monetary gain or loss?
The UNIGE researchers tested 84 participants to investigate confidence bias in the context of reward or punishment-based learning, known as reinforcement learning. "The principle is simple," begins Maël Lebreton, a researcher in UNIGE's Swiss Centre for Affective Sciences (CISA). "Participants were shown two abstract symbols on a screen. One symbol was associated with a 75% probability to win 50 cents in and the second one only 25% probability to win. On each trial, they had to choose one of the symbols to try to win and evaluate how confident they were in their choice. As the task progressed, the subjects learned to refine their decisions by identifying the symbol that paid out the most." The principle was reversed for the loss: participants were asked to select the symbol that was associated with the lowest probability to lose money and then assess the accuracy of their decisions.
Results - Ability - Participants - Gains - Losses
The initial results showed that the ability to learn is statistically identical when participants learn to seek gains and when they learn to avoid losses. On the other hand, participants were much more confident when it came to making money rather than avoiding losing it. "There's a 10% boost in confidence!" says Lebreton. Given that the task and performance were the same, one should expect similar levels of confidence. This difference demonstrates the existence of a bias in learning and confidence judgments introduced by the economic context.
Yet, the increase in confidence in the gain context is not necessarily a good thing. "It's normal for confidence to increase...
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