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Cognitive processes involved in hypothesis judgment and underlying functional brain networks Whitman, Jennifer C.


The manner in which we judge multiple hypotheses and consider multiple items of evidence is fundamental to diverse aspects of behaviour. One goal of the studies reported here was to identify cognitive biases in this process. A probabilistic reasoning paradigm involving objectively quantifiable evidence allowed the manipulation of factors biasing hypothesis judgment while mathematically normative responses were kept constant. This revealed two cognitive biases. The first was a tendency to overestimate the strength of gradually accumulated evidence. The second was a tendency to judge a self-selected hypothesis as being more probable than an externally selected one, despite equivalent supporting evidence. This selection bias was exacerbated in delusional schizophrenia patients. Our second goal was to describe brain networks involved in hypothesis judgment. To this purpose, we collected functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data during performance of a probabilistic reasoning task. Functionally connected brain networks were identified using constrained principal component analysis (CPCA). The fMRI results showed task-related activity in a network including the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and bilateral parietal cortex. The activity of this dACC-based network was strongest when the evidence was consistent with the hypothesis being judged (evidence-hypothesis matches). This result is discussed in terms of functional connectivity between the dACC and other brain regions as a possible mechanism for coherence between components of a mental representation. Both our behavioural results and our neuroimaging results show evidence of processing unique to situations involving cognitive coherence between the hypothesis being judged and the relevant evidence.

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