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I want to believe: delusion, motivated reasoning, and Bayesian decision theory

Rigoli, F. ORCID: 0000-0003-2233-934X, Martinelli, C. & Pezzulo, G. (2021). I want to believe: delusion, motivated reasoning, and Bayesian decision theory. Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, 26(6), pp. 408-420. doi: 10.1080/13546805.2021.1982686


Introduction: Several arguments suggest that motivated reasoning (occurring when beliefs are not solely shaped by accuracy, but also by other motives such as promoting self-esteem or self-protection) is important in delusions. However, classical theories of delusion disregard the role of motivated reasoning. Thus, this role remains poorly understood.

Methods: To explore the role of motivated reasoning in delusions, here we propose a computational model of delusion based on a Bayesian decision framework. This proposes that beliefs are not only evaluated based on their accuracy (as in classical theories), but also based on the cost (in terms of reward and punishment) of rejecting them.

Results: The model proposes that, when the values at stake are high (as often it is the case in the context of delusion), a belief might be endorsed because rejecting it is evaluated as too costly, even if the belief is less accurate. This process might contribute to the genesis of delusions.

Conclusions: Our account offers an interpretation of how motivated reasoning might shape delusions. This can inspire research on the affective and motivational processes supporting delusions in clinical conditions such as in psychosis, neurological disorders, and delusional disorder.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way. This article has been published in Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, doi:
Publisher Keywords: Delusion, Bayesian decision theory, motivated reasoning, affect, emotion
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Q Science > QA Mathematics
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
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