Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Meta_Mind (The workings of metacognition in decision-making)
Reporting period: 2018-01-02 to 2020-01-01
At the moment, the mechanisms underlying our so-called ‘metacognitive system’ are not well understood. It remains unclear how our metacognitive system operates or what kind of information is being used for metacognition. In addition, it currently also remains unknown how metacognition is affected by daily appearing factors such as drowsiness or sleepiness. The known fragmentation of cognition during drowsiness makes this transitional state an interesting test ground for decision-making and metacognition from both a psychological and neuroscientific perspective as well as from a practical point of view (e.g. until when are we still capable of controlling and knowing how we perform?). The overarching aim of the project is to expose the psychological and neural mechanisms of metacognition and decision-making, thereby intersecting the relationship between cognition, consciousness and wakefulness. I combine state-of-the-art methods from neuroscience and experimental designs from cognitive psychology and sleep research.
More specifically, we asked the following questions.
- How does forecasting and metacognition operate? What information is being incorporated and evaluated? What are the psychological and neural mechanisms?
- How do daily fluctuations in cognitive performance induced by drowsiness affect decision-making and metacognition? What are the psychological and neural mechanisms?
The answers to these questions could provide valuable input into understanding i) how decision-making can be improved (e.g. in clinical populations), and under what circumstances we should be cautious for overconfidence, ii) how daily fluctuations in alertness affect our decision process (how are we able to determine that we are too drowsy to drive, or how do we know that we can still make adept decisions at the end of a night shift in a hospital?).
By combining modeling, the most innovative methods from electroencephalographic recordings (EEG), brain stimulation, fMRI analyses, and recent developments in sleep research I am investigating the psychological and neural mechanisms that underlie prediction and metacognition during decision-making and aim to lay out practical implications that will flow out of the research.
- In daily life, our decisions are frequently guided by regularities in our environment. However, such contingencies are not always explicitly present and sometimes need to be inferred. In our experiment, we showed how predictive (contextual) information in the environment influenced decision-making despite a lack of awareness of the meaning (or presence) of this information. These implicit inferences emerge through changes in internally and externally oriented neural networks. Our results demonstrate that the prefrontal cortex plays an important role in the transformation of externally driven stimulus–outcome events into predictive internalized models of the world (see https://www.jneurosci.org/content/jneuro/39/26/5183.full.pdf )
- To follow up on the above-described results, we aimed to causally test the involvement of prefrontal cortex in internally oriented processes (metacognition, predictions). What happens when neural activity in prefrontal cortex becomes 'abnormal' or altered? Interestingly, we observed that participants were no longer able to use predictive contextual information to adjust decision-making when activity in prefrontal cortex was altered. (manuscript in preparation)
- Our next experiments addressed what kind information is being used to compute an estimate about the quality of our decisions. Considered together, our results demonstrate that post-decisional information contributes to metacognition, thereby evaluating not only what one perceives (e.g. strength of perceptual evidence) but also how one responds towards perceptual events. In this way, metacognition can be seen as an internalization of external feedback processing and error monitoring https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-60382-y and https://www.jneurosci.org/content/jneuro/37/4/781.full.pdf
- To examine the mechanisms of metacognitive decision-making further, and investigate how sensory and 'higher-order' areas (such as prefrontal cortex) interact we used fMRI and brain stimulation (participants performed a total of 6 sessions in six different weeks). Results of this experiment are expected to provide great insight into the workings of metacognitive decision-making, and will be important in arbitrating a currently fiercely held debate within the literature. This rich dataset will be useful for many (European) researchers interested in decision-making (including medical doctors, psychologists, and neuroscientists). (manuscripts in preparation)
- To uncover how daily fluctuations in cognitive performance induced by drowsiness affect decision-making we are currently examining the depth of the effects of drowsiness. For this, we are investigating how drowsiness alters decision-making on a 'low-level' (can you tell the difference between an arrow pointing leftwards or rightwards?) and 'high-level' (are you able to stop an ongoing action, are you able to ignore irrelevant information, or are you able to estimate how well you are performing), and whether an over-arching effect of drowsiness can be observed in a series of 8 experiments. (in preparation)