Confidence


A few months ago there was an item in ScienceDaily (here), Neuroscientists Glimpse How The Brain Decides What To Believe. This deals with that is probably the source of a fringe feeling in consciousness indicating how sure we are of some idea.

‘You’re driving to a restaurant for the very first time. At a crossroads, you make a turn. You drive for several minutes, and then several minutes more. Nothing in sight. The disturbing thought creeps into your mind: “I should be there by now. Did I make the wrong turn?” At what point will you make a u-turn and go back? It all depends on how confident you are of the decision you made at the crossroads. Having a sense of what we know — and don’t know — is a universal human experience, and has often been assumed to be the hallmark of self-consciousness. But new research by neuroscientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory suggests that the estimation of confidence that underlies decisions may be the product of a very basic kind of information processing in the brain, shared widely across species and not strictly confined to those, like us, that are self-aware.

…They found that neurons in a part of the brain known as the orbitofrontal cortex (an area of the brain found in both rats and humans) signal the uncertainty of the decisions,… “We tested several alternative explanations but the best explanation for the neural activity we observed was that these neurons were signaling the confidence of the animal about its decisions.”… This showed that they could not only calculate their level of confidence in a given decision, but also use that calculation in subsequent decisions to guide behavior… Taken together, these experiments reveal “that confidence estimation is not a complex function specific to humans but a core component of the process of decision-making probably found throughout the animal kingdom,”…’

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