Modeling metacognitive accuracy and its neural substrate


Using theoretical modeling, we have begun to investigate the mechanisms underlying the capacity to monitor thought and behavior. Recent computational advances have allowed accuracy in monitoring performance to be quantified independently of an individual’s sensitivity on the primary task, enabling it to be objectively measured across a range of cognitive contexts in a way that isolates it from this potential confounding influence. This approach uses psychophysical measures to quantify an individual’s “metacognitive sensitivity” (type II sensitivity) which indicates their ability to discriminate between their own correct and incorrect judgments or behavior on a trial-by-trial basis. Variance in performance can be controlled in this approach through either experimental design or computation.


Using this approach, our recent research made a surprising discovery: after accounting for variance in task accuracy (type I sensitivity), the capacity to accurately monitor performance (type II sensitivity) shows domain specificity at both the behavioral and neural level. For example, across several studies we have found that the ability to accurately monitor perception and memory show distinct variation across individuals. This means that a person could be relatively good at monitoring perception while relatively poor at monitoring memory function, or vice versa. Furthermore, we have linked inter-individual variance in monitoring accuracy in each cognitive domain to connectivity within anatomically distinct large-scale cortical networks, as revealed through both functional (resting state functional connectivity) and anatomical (diffusion spectrum imaging) measurements.


Representative publications:


Baird, B., Smallwood, J., Gorgolewski, K., & Margulies, D. M. (2013). Medial and lateral networks in anterior prefrontal cortex support metacognitive ability for memory and perception. The Journal of Neuroscience, 33(42), 16657-16665.


Baird, B., Cieslak, M., Grafton, S., & Schooler, J. (2014). Regional white matter variation associated with domain-specific metacognitive accuracy. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 27(3), 440-452.


Baird, B., Mrazek, M., Phillips, D. T., & Schooler, J. W. (2014). Domain-specific enhancement of metacognitive ability following meditation training. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(5), 1972-1979.