The neural system of metacognition accompanying decision-making in the prefrontal cortex.PLoS Biol. 2018 04; 16(4):e2004037.PB
Decision-making is usually accompanied by metacognition, through which a decision maker monitors uncertainty regarding a decision and may then consequently revise the decision. These metacognitive processes can occur prior to or in the absence of feedback. However, the neural mechanisms of metacognition remain controversial. One theory proposes an independent neural system for metacognition in the prefrontal cortex (PFC); the other, that metacognitive processes coincide and overlap with the systems used for the decision-making process per se. In this study, we devised a novel "decision-redecision" paradigm to investigate the neural metacognitive processes involved in redecision as compared to the initial decision-making process. The participants underwent a perceptual decision-making task and a rule-based decision-making task during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). We found that the anterior PFC, including the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and lateral frontopolar cortex (lFPC), were more extensively activated after the initial decision. The dACC activity in redecision positively scaled with decision uncertainty and correlated with individual metacognitive uncertainty monitoring abilities-commonly occurring in both tasks-indicating that the dACC was specifically involved in decision uncertainty monitoring. In contrast, the lFPC activity seen in redecision processing was scaled with decision uncertainty reduction and correlated with individual accuracy changes-positively in the rule-based decision-making task and negatively in the perceptual decision-making task. Our results show that the lFPC was specifically involved in metacognitive control of decision adjustment and was subject to different control demands of the tasks. Therefore, our findings support that a separate neural system in the PFC is essentially involved in metacognition and further, that functions of the PFC in metacognition are dissociable.