Neural networks underlying the metacognitive uncertainty response

TitleNeural networks underlying the metacognitive uncertainty response
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsPaul, E. J., J Smith D., Valentin V. V., Turner B. O., Barbey A. K., & Ashby F. G.
Date Published2015 Oct
KeywordsBrain Mapping, Cognition, Decision Making, Feedback, Psychological, Female, Gyrus Cinguli, Humans, Image Processing, Computer-Assisted, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Nerve Net, Neuroimaging, Parietal Lobe, Photic Stimulation, Prefrontal Cortex, Psychomotor Performance, Uncertainty, Volition, Young Adult

Humans monitor states of uncertainty that can guide decision-making. These uncertain states are evident behaviorally when humans decline to make a categorization response. Such behavioral uncertainty responses (URs) have also defined the search for metacognition in animals. While a plethora of neuroimaging studies have focused on uncertainty, the brain systems supporting a volitional strategy shift under uncertainty have not been distinguished from those observed in making introspective post-hoc reports of categorization uncertainty. Using rapid event-related fMRI, we demonstrate that the neural activity patterns elicited by humans' URs are qualitatively different from those recruited by associative processes during categorization. Participants performed a one-dimensional perceptual-categorization task in which an uncertainty-response option let them decline to make a categorization response. Uncertainty responding activated a distributed network including prefrontal cortex (PFC), anterior and posterior cingulate cortex (ACC, PCC), anterior insula, and posterior parietal areas; importantly, these regions were distinct from those whose activity was modulated by task difficulty. Generally, our results can be characterized as a large-scale cognitive control network including recently evolved brain regions such as the anterior dorsolateral and medial PFC. A metacognitive theory would view the UR as a deliberate behavioral adjustment rather than just a learned middle category response, and predicts this pattern of results. These neuroimaging results bolster previous behavioral findings, which suggested that different cognitive processes underlie responses due to associative learning versus the declaration of uncertainty. We conclude that the UR represents an elemental behavioral index of metacognition.

Alternate JournalCortex
PubMed ID26291663
PubMed Central IDPMC4751865
Grant ListR01 HD061455 / HD / NICHD NIH HHS / United States
R01 MH063760 / MH / NIMH NIH HHS / United States
1R01HD061455 / HD / NICHD NIH HHS / United States
2R01MH063760 / MH / NIMH NIH HHS / United States