Explicit representations of uncertainty drive attentional adjustments


  • Dr Annika Boldt

    Birkbeck, University of London

Project summary

People constantly face decisions which are accompanied by an inherent feeling of correctness or incorrectness. Just as we realise the tennis ball we played will most likely hit the net, we can feel more or less confident about our daily decisions. Decision confidence is often described as a direct read-out of decision-inherent uncertainty and it has been found to be surprisingly accurate. However, little is known about the precise purpose that confidence serves.

I want to understand how confidence could help people to optimise their behaviour. According to this idea, whenever there is external feedback that could guide us, confidence – or how accurate we think we are – could help us direct our attention to the most relevant external sources of feedback signals. I propose that how confident we feel affects whether we adopt a wider or narrower attentional focus. I believe that studying the underlying cause of why we feel unconfident, including external or internal factors, will help us better understand these mechanisms. I plan to study these questions in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, who often struggle with uncertainty and who might show impairments in adjusting their attention in an optimal way.