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Domain-General and Domain-Specific Patterns of Activity Supporting Metacognition in Human Prefrontal Cortex


Metacognition is the capacity to evaluate the success of one's own cognitive processes in various domains; for example, memory and perception. It remains controversial whether metacognition relies on a domain-general resource that is applied to different tasks or if self-evaluative processes are domain specific. Here, we investigated this issue directly by examining the neural substrates engaged when metacognitive judgments were made by human participants of both sexes during perceptual and memory tasks matched for stimulus and performance characteristics. By comparing patterns of fMRI activity while subjects evaluated their performance, we revealed both domain-specific and domain-general metacognitive representations. Multivoxel activity patterns in anterior prefrontal cortex predicted levels of confidence in a domain-specific fashion, whereas domain-general signals predicting confidence and accuracy were found in a widespread network in the frontal and posterior midline. The demonstration of domain-specific metacognitive representations suggests the presence of a content-rich mechanism available to introspection and cognitive control.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT We used human neuroimaging to investigate processes supporting memory and perceptual metacognition. It remains controversial whether metacognition relies on a global resource that is applied to different tasks or if self-evaluative processes are specific to particular tasks. Using multivariate decoding methods, we provide evidence that perceptual- and memory-specific metacognitive representations coexist with generic confidence signals. Our findings reconcile previously conflicting results on the domain specificity/generality of metacognition and lay the groundwork for a mechanistic understanding of metacognitive judgments.

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