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<p>A growing body of evidence indicates that subjective confidence plays an important role in guiding behaviour. Past studies have demonstrated a fixed relationship between confidence and behaviour, so that low confidence leads to one course of action, and high confidence to another. Here, we tested whether people display flexibility in their use of confidence, so that the mapping between confidence and behaviour is not necessarily fixed, but can instead vary depending on the specific context. This proposal was studied in three experiments, testing the hypothesis that the seemingly natural relationship between low confidence and advice requests varies according to whether people know, or do not know, the quality of the advice. Participants made an initial perceptual judgement, and then had to choose between re-sampling evidence or receiving advice from a virtual advisor, before making a final decision. The results from these experiments showed that, when no objective information about advisor reliability was available, people selected advice more often when their confidence was high rather than low, reflecting the use of confidence as a feedback proxy to learn about advisor quality. Importantly, participants were able to learn about the value of advice even in the absence of feedback and subsequently selected more advice from better advisors, indicating the value of using confidence in this way. In contrast, when participants had prior knowledge about the reliability of advisors, they requested advice more often when confidence was low, reflecting the use of confidence as a self-monitoring tool signalling that help should be solicited. These findings indicate that people use confidence in a way that is context-dependent and directed towards achieving their current goals.</p>

Original publication




Journal article


Center for Open Science

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