Thursday, September 06, 2012

Where thinking about thinking happens in the brain.

We evaluate and alter the cognitive functions we perform, as when we revise or edit our writing or speaking. This monitoring and controlling is usually referred to as metacognition. Middlebrooks and Sommer have recently done an elegant study of metacognition in Macaque monkeys, using a simple betting paradigm:
Humans are metacognitive: they monitor and control their cognition. Our hypothesis was that neuronal correlates of metacognition reside in the same brain areas responsible for cognition, including frontal cortex. Recent work demonstrated that nonhuman primates are capable of metacognition, so we recorded from single neurons in the frontal eye field, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and supplementary eye field of monkeys (Macaca mulatta) that performed a metacognitive visual-oculomotor task. The animals made a decision and reported it with a saccade, but received no immediate reward or feedback. Instead, they had to monitor their decision and bet whether it was correct. Activity was correlated with decisions and bets in all three brain areas, but putative metacognitive activity that linked decisions to appropriate bets occurred exclusively in the SEF. Our results offer a survey of neuronal correlates of metacognition and implicate the SEF in linking cognitive functions over short periods of time.
Highlight points:
-Monkeys made decisions and wagered on their performance in a metacognitive task
-Single neurons were recorded in three frontal cortical region
-Only supplementary eye field (SEF) neuronal activity correlated with metacognition
-The SEF metacognitive signal provided a temporal “bridge” between decision and bet

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