1 min readResearcher Reveals Brain Connections Underlying Accurate Introspection

Santa Barbara, CA – The human mind is not only capable of cognition and registering experiences but also of being introspectively aware of these processes.

Until now, scientists have not known if such introspection was a single skill or dependent on the object of reflection. Also unclear was whether the brain housed a single system for reflecting on experience or required multiple systems to support different types of introspection.

A new study by UC Santa Barbara graduate student Benjamin Baird and colleagues suggest that the ability to accurately reflect on perceptual experience and the ability to accurately reflect on memories were uncorrelated, suggesting that they are distinct introspective skills. The findings appear in the Journal of Neuroscience.

A. This shows seed regions. B. This shows functional magnetic resonance imaging connectivity results. Top two panels: Metacognitive accuracy for perceptual decisions is associated with increased connectivity between the lateral anterior prefrontal cortex (aPFC) seed region and the right dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, bilateral putamen, right caudate and thalamus. Bottom two panels: Metacognitive accuracy for memory is associated with increased connectivity between the medial aPFC and right precuneus and the right intraparietal sulcus /inferior parietal lobule.  Image: UCSBThe researchers used classic perceptual decision and memory retrieval tasks in tandem with functional magnetic resonance imaging to determine connectivity to regions in the front tip of the brain, commonly referred to as the anterior prefrontal cortex. The study tested a person’s ability to reflect on his or her perception and memory and then examined how individual variation in each of these capacities was linked to the functional connections of the medial and lateral parts of the anterior prefrontal cortex.

“Our results suggest that metacognitive or introspective ability may not be a single thing,” Baird said. “We actually find a behavioural dissociation between the two metacognitive abilities across people, which suggests that you can be good at reflecting on your memory but poor at reflecting on your perception, or vice versa.”

The newly published research adds to the literature describing the role of the medial and lateral areas of the anterior prefrontal cortex in metacognition and suggests that specific subdivisions of this area may support specific types of introspection. The findings of Baird’s team demonstrate that the ability to accurately reflect on perception is associated with enhanced connectivity between the lateral region of the anterior prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate, a region involved in coding uncertainty and errors of performance.

Publication: Medial and Lateral Networks in Anterior Prefrontal Cortex Support Metacognitive Ability for Memory and Perception. Benjamin Baird, Jonathan Smallwood, Krzysztof J. Gorgolewski, and Daniel S. Margulies. The Journal of Neuroscience, (October 16 2013): http://www.jneurosci.org/content/33/42/16657.abstract?sid=629b8f6a-cb76-47fd-9b81-314dcbbe7fae

Cognitive Science

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