Sure I'm Sure: Prefrontal Oscillations Support Metacognitive Monitoring of Decision Making
Successful decision making critically involves metacognitive processes such as monitoring and control of our decision process. Metacognition enables agents to modify ongoing behavior adaptively and determine what to do next in situations in which external feedback is not (immediately) available. Despite the importance of metacognition for many aspects of life, little is known about how our metacognitive system operates or about what kind of information is used for metacognitive (second-order) judgments. In particular, it remains an open question whether metacognitive judgments are based on the same information as first-order decisions. Here, we investigated the relationship between metacognitive performance and first-order task performance by recording EEG signals while participants were asked to make a “diagnosis” after seeing a sample of fictitious patient data (a complex pattern of colored moving dots of different sizes). To assess metacognitive performance, participants provided an estimate about the quality of their diagnosis on each trial. Results demonstrate that the information that contributes to first-order decisions differs from the information that supports metacognitive judgments. Further, time–frequency analyses of EEG signals reveal that metacognitive performance is associated specifically with prefrontal theta-band activity. Together, our findings are consistent with a hierarchical model of metacognition and suggest a crucial role for prefrontal oscillations in metacognitive performance. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Monitoring and control of our decision process (metacognition) is a crucial aspect of adaptive decision making. Crucially, metacognitive skills enable us to adjust ongoing behavior and determine future decision making when immediate feedback is not available. In the present study, we constructed a “diagnosis task” that allowed us to assess in what way first-order task performance and metacognition are related to each other. Results demonstrate that the contribution of sensory evidence (size, color, and motion direction) differs between first- and second-order decision making. Further, our results indicate that metacognitive performance specifically is orchestrated by means of prefrontal theta oscillations. Together, our findings suggest a hierarchical model of metacognition.
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