Updating Beliefs Under Perceived Threat

29 Pages Posted: 21 Apr 2018  

Neil Garrett

University College London - Affective Brain Lab, Department of Experimental Psychology; Princeton University - Department of Psychology

Ana González-Garzón

University College London - Department of Experimental Psychology, Affective Brain Lab

Lucy Foulkes

University College London - Department of Experimental Psychology, Affective Brain Lab

Liat Levita

University of Sheffield - Department of Psychology

Tali Sharot

University College London - Affective Brain Lab, Department of Experimental Psychology

Date Written: April 3, 2018

Abstract

Humans are better at integrating desirable information into their beliefs than undesirable. 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 improvement 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.

Keywords: threat, stress, anxiety, risk, information processing

Suggested Citation

Garrett, Neil and González-Garzón, Ana and Foulkes, Lucy and Levita, Liat and Sharot, Tali, Updating Beliefs Under Perceived Threat (April 3, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3155415 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3155415

Neil Garrett (Contact Author)

University College London - Affective Brain Lab, Department of Experimental Psychology ( email )

Department of Experimental Psychology
London, WC1H 0AP
United Kingdom

Princeton University - Department of Psychology ( email )

Green Hall
Princeton, NJ 08540
United States

Ana González-Garzón

University College London - Department of Experimental Psychology, Affective Brain Lab ( email )

United Kingdom

Lucy Foulkes

University College London - Department of Experimental Psychology, Affective Brain Lab ( email )

United Kingdom

Liat Levita

University of Sheffield - Department of Psychology ( email )

Sheffield S10 2TN
United Kingdom

Tali Sharot

University College London - Affective Brain Lab, Department of Experimental Psychology ( email )

London
United Kingdom

HOME PAGE: http://affectivebrain.com

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