Anxiety – Organisms learn from forecast errors (PE) to adjust expectations in the future.
Survival and well-being require accurate expectations about the world around us. When consistent with reality, expectations about likely rewards and threats in the environment encourage appropriate behavioral responses and facilitate survival, even when information is limited. However, as our environment is constantly changing, expectations that were accurate yesterday can lead us to make the wrong decision today.
For example, if a distant rumble makes us think of lightning, we may decide to take cover, even before the lightning is visible; conversely, wrongly inferring that the noise is coming from an airplane can leave the same person unprepared and surprised when lightning strikes. These types of surprises, called prediction errors (PE), suggest that the model of the environment is inaccurate, which may have implications for survival, optimal behavior, and well-being in society.
Researchers in psychology have looked at how predictions and expectations can affect the mood and outlook of individuals in a controlled laboratory setting, but researchers at the University of Miami decided to investigate the ups and downs of human expectations using what matters most to college students: their test scores.
To help the researchers collect the data, the students agreed to share their scores from four tests taken throughout the semester. After each exam, they sent the team a prediction of the grade they expected to get (from zero to 100) on that occasion. In smaller laboratory studies of how individuals learn from these expectation violations, data has shown that people display what is called an ” optimistic learning bias, ” meaning that they tend to learn more from positive surprises. that of the negatives.
Similar results were also found in the experiment. In general, most students showed an optimistic learning bias in the sense that they learned more when they did better than expected than when they did worse. However, there was another group of students who were more pessimistic throughout the semester – Anxiety.
When the most optimistic students received a lower score than they expected, they changed their expectations accordingly but did not overcorrect after these disappointments on the next test. But the most pessimistic students tended to predict that they would score lower on a subsequent test even if their last score was slightly higher than they had anticipated. This led them to be more inaccurate in what they expected overall, and because of how they learned, they predicted whether students would develop anxiety symptoms later in life.
In essence, the study presents evidence that individuals’ positive and negative emotions were not only driven by the test scores they received, but by what they expected to receive.