Updating beliefs under perceived threat

Neil Garrett, Ana María González-Garzón, Lucy Foulkes, Liat Levita, Tali Sharot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Citations (Scopus)
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Humans are better at integrating desirable information into their beliefs than undesirable information. This asymmetry poses an evolutionary puzzle, as it can lead to an underestimation of risk and thus failure to take precautionary action. Here, we suggest a mechanism that can speak to this conundrum. In particular, we show that the bias vanishes in response to perceived threat in the environment. We report that an improve- ment in participants’ tendency to incorporate bad news into their beliefs is associated with physiological arousal in response to threat indexed by galvanic skin response and self-reported anxiety. This pattern of results was observed in a controlled laboratory setting (Experiment I), where perceived threat was manipulated, and in firefighters on duty (Experiment II), where it naturally varied. Such flexibility in how individuals integrate information may enhance the likelihood of responding to warnings with caution in environments rife with threat, while maintaining a positivity bias otherwise, a strategy that can increase well-being.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7901-7911
Number of pages11
JournalThe Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number36
Early online date6 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sep 2018

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