Post-decision wagering after perceptual judgments reveals bi-directional certainty readouts.Cognition. 2018 07; 176:40-52.C
Humans and other animals constantly evaluate their decisions in order to learn and behave adaptively. Experimentally, such evaluation processes are accessed using metacognitive reports made after decisions, typically using verbally formulated confidence scales. When subjects report high confidence, it reflects a high certainty of being correct, but a low confidence might signify either low certainty about the outcome, or a high certainty of being incorrect. Hence, metacognitive reports might reflect not only different levels of decision certainty, but also two certainty directions (certainty of being correct and certainty of being incorrect). It is important to test if such bi-directional processing can be measured because, for decision-making under uncertainty, information about being incorrect is as important as information about being correct for guidance of subsequent behavior. We were able to capture implicit bi-directional certainty readouts by asking subjects to bet money on their perceptual decision accuracy using a six-grade wager scale (post-decision wagering, PDW). To isolate trial-specific aspects of metacognitive judgments, we used pre-decision wagering (wagering before the perceptual decision) to subtract, from PDW trials, influences resulting from non-trial-specific assessment of expected difficulty and psychological biases. This novel design allowed independent quantification of certainty of being correct and certainty of being incorrect, showing that subjects were able to read out certainty in a bi-directional manner. Certainty readouts about being incorrect were particularly associated with metacognitive sensitivity exceeding perceptual sensitivity (i.e. meta-d' > d'), suggesting that such enhanced metacognitive efficiency is driven by information about incorrect decisions. Readouts of certainty in both directions increased on easier trials, and both certainty directions were also associated with faster metacognitive reaction times, indicating that certainty of being incorrect was not confounded with low certainty. Finally, both readouts influenced the amount of money subjects earned through PDW, suggesting that bi-directional readouts are important for planning future actions when feedback about previous decisions is unavailable.