Beliefs, predictions and shortcuts in the deceitful brain
Professor Paul Fletcher believes that exploring how the brain makes predictions about the world will help us to understand mental illness.
It is tempting, and perhaps comforting, to believe that our senses provide us with an accurate picture of the world. But they don’t. Rather, what we perceive, and how we perceive it, is often determined by what we anticipate and what fits most comfortably with our prior expectations and biases.
The everyday experience of taking in data from the world, weighing it up and drawing conclusions implies that information flows exclusively in one direction: from perception to belief. Actually, it is a two-way street. It’s just that our beliefs about what is normal, predictable or logical may prevent us from experiencing the perceptions that violate our assumptions. This simple fact – that what we expect determines what we experience – has long been recognised by psychologists.
Professor Paul Fletcher, the Bernard Wolfe Professor of Health Neuroscience in the Department of Psychiatry, is investigating the ways in which we form beliefs about our environment, and how we use these to make predictions and decide what actions to take. Knowing how the brain normally does this may help us to understand why, under conditions of mental illness, people entertain perceptions and beliefs that may seem unusual and illogical. It may also tell us why we so frequently engage in behaviours that are detrimental to our overall health.
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