Expectations about precision bias metacognition and awareness

Olawole-Scott, Helen and Yon, Daniel. 2023. Expectations about precision bias metacognition and awareness. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 152(8), pp. 2177-2189. ISSN 0096-3445 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Bayesian models of the mind suggest that we estimate the reliability or “precision” of incoming sensory signals to guide perceptual inference and to construct feelings of confidence or uncertainty about what we are perceiving. However, accurately estimating precision is likely to be challenging for bounded systems like the brain. One way observers could overcome this challenge is to form expectations about the precision of their perceptions and use these to guide metacognition and awareness. Here we test this possibility. Participants made perceptual decisions about visual motion stimuli, while providing confidence ratings (Experiments 1 and 2) or ratings of subjective visibility (Experiment 3). In each experiment, participants acquired probabilistic expectations about the likely strength of upcoming signals. We found these expectations about precision altered metacognition and awareness—with participants feeling more confident and stimuli appearing more vivid when stronger sensory signals were expected, without concomitant changes in objective perceptual performance. Computational modeling revealed that this effect could be well explained by a predictive learning model that infers the precision (strength) of current signals as a weighted combination of incoming evidence and top-down expectation. These results support an influential but untested tenet of Bayesian models of cognition, suggesting that agents do not only “read out” the reliability of information arriving at their senses, but also take into account prior knowledge about how reliable or “precise” different sources of information are likely to be. This reveals that expectations about precision influence how the sensory world appears and how much we trust our senses.

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Additional Information:

This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Data Access Statement:

Experiments 2 and 3 were preregistered on AsPredicted (https:// aspredicted.org/bs8ww.pdf; https://aspredicted.org/zk64a.pdf), and data are available at https://osf.io/j6tp2.


metacognition, precision, perception, expectation, uncertainty

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26 December 2022Accepted
27 March 2023Published Online
August 2023Published

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Date Deposited:

06 Sep 2023 09:31

Last Modified:

06 Sep 2023 09:31

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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