Confidence reports in decision-making with multiple alternatives violate the Bayesian confidence hypothesis

Hsin Hung Li, Wei Ji Ma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Decision confidence reflects our ability to evaluate the quality of decisions and guides subsequent behavior. Experiments on confidence reports have almost exclusively focused on two-alternative decision-making. In this realm, the leading theory is that confidence reflects the probability that a decision is correct (the posterior probability of the chosen option). There is, however, another possibility, namely that people are less confident if the best two options are closer to each other in posterior probability, regardless of how probable they are in absolute terms. This possibility has not previously been considered because in two-alternative decisions, it reduces to the leading theory. Here, we test this alternative theory in a three-alternative visual categorization task. We found that confidence reports are best explained by the difference between the posterior probabilities of the best and the next-best options, rather than by the posterior probability of the chosen (best) option alone, or by the overall uncertainty (entropy) of the posterior distribution. Our results upend the leading notion of decision confidence and instead suggest that confidence reflects the observer’s subjective probability that they made the best possible decision.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2004
JournalNature communications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Physics and Astronomy


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