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How the brain biases beliefs

Proposed neural circuit may underlie motivation to cling to desirable notions about the future

Society for Neuroscience

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IMAGE: People demonstrate biased belief updating: They tend to regard good news indicating that personal risks are lower than expected, and to disregard bad news indicating that personal risks are higher... view more 

Credit: Bojana Kuzmanovic

People's motivation to cling to desirable notions about future outlooks results from interactions between prefrontal cortex regions, according to a human neuroimaging study published in JNeurosci.

Bojana Kuzmanovic and colleagues uncovered circuits in the brain that support belief updating by asking participants to estimate their own and a peer's likelihood of experiencing an adverse life event, such as receiving a cancer diagnosis, and then presenting them with the actual federal statistics. Participants then reevaluated their personal risk in light of this new information.

The researchers found that the difference between the two estimates was greater when participants initially overestimated their risk of the adverse event, demonstrating the well-known optimism bias. An analysis of brain activity and the underlying circuitry revealed that this phenomenon depends on the influence of the brain's valuation system on reasoning processes. The proposed circuit involves the dorsolateral, ventromedial, and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, which together bias integration of new information to support a preferred conclusion.

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Article: Influence of vmPFC on dmPFC Predicts Valence-Guided Belief Formation

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0266-18.2018

Corresponding author: Bojana Kuzmanovic (Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research (Cologne, Germany), bojana.kuzmanovic@sf.mpg.de

About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience's first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today, the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact, while responding to authors' changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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