How confident are you? As humans, aware of our subjective sense of confidence, we can readily answer. Knowing your level of confidence helps to optimize both routine decisions such as whether to go back and check if the front door was locked and momentous ones like finding a partner for life. Yet the inherently subjective nature of confidence has limited investigations by neurobiologists. Here, we provide an overview of recent advances in this field and lay out a conceptual framework that lets us translate psychological questions about subjective confidence into the language of neuroscience. We show how statistical notions of confidence provide a bridge between our subjective sense of confidence and confidence-guided behaviors in nonhuman animals, thus enabling the study of the underlying neurobiology. We discuss confidence as a core cognitive process that enables organisms to optimize behavior such as learning or resource allocation and that serves as the basis of metacognitive reasoning. These approaches place confidence on a solid footing and pave the way for a mechanistic understanding of how the brain implements confidence-based algorithms to guide behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-16
Number of pages8
JournalCold Spring Harbor symposia on quantitative biology
StatePublished - 2018


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