Action biases perceptual decisions toward expected outcomes


We predict how our actions will influence the world around us. Prevailing models in the action control literature propose that we use these predictions to suppress or “cancel” perception of expected action outcomes, to highlight more informative surprising events. However, contrasting normative Bayesian models in sensory cognition suggest that we are more, not less, likely to perceive what we expect—given that what we expect is more likely to occur. Here we adjudicated between these models by investigating how expectations influence perceptual decisions about action outcomes in a signal detection paradigm. Across three experiments, participants performed one of two manual actions that were sometimes accompanied by brief presentation of expected or unexpected visual outcomes. Contrary to dominant cancellation models but consistent with Bayesian accounts, we found that observers were biased to report the presence of expected action outcomes. There were no effects of expectation on sensitivity. Computational modeling revealed that the action-induced bias reflected a sensory bias in how evidence was accumulated rather than a baseline shift in decision circuits. Expectation effects remained in Experiments 2 and 3 when orthogonal cues indicated which finger was more likely to be probed (i.e. task-relevant). These biases toward perceiving expected action outcomes are suggestive of a mechanism that would enable generation of largely veridical representations of our actions and their consequences in an inherently uncertain sensory world.