"Using these precise measures, we're now beginning to drill down and see how different types of introspection are actually housed in the real human brain," says Benjamin Baird. (Credit: Franck. Minez/Flickr)

brains

Two mental skills, not one, make you introspective

The ability to reflect on both your perceptions and your memories likely requires two distinct brain skills.

The researchers used MRI brain scans and classic perceptual decision and memory retrieval tasks to determine connectivity to regions in the brain’s front tip, an area commonly referred to as the anterior prefrontal cortex.

The study tested a person’s ability to reflect on his or her perception and memory and then examined how individual variation in each of these capacities was linked to the functional connections of the medial and lateral parts of the anterior prefrontal cortex.

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“Our results suggest that metacognitive or introspective ability may not be a single thing,” says Benjamin Baird, a graduate student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “We actually find a behavioral dissociation between the two metacognitive abilities across people, which suggests that you can be good at reflecting on your memory but poor at reflecting on your perception, or vice versa.”

The newly published research adds to the literature describing the role of the medial and lateral areas of the anterior prefrontal cortex in metacognition and suggests that specific subdivisions of this area may support specific types of introspection.

The findings of Baird’s team demonstrate that the ability to accurately reflect on perception is associated with enhanced connectivity between the lateral region of the anterior prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate, a region involved in coding uncertainty and errors of performance.

In contrast, the ability to accurately reflect on memory is linked to enhanced connectivity between the medial anterior prefrontal cortex and two areas of the brain: the precuneus and the lateral parietal cortex, regions prior work has shown to be involved in coding information pertaining to memories.

“Using these precise measures, we’re now beginning to drill down and see how different types of introspection are actually housed in the real human brain,” Baird adds. “So it’s pretty fascinating from that perspective.”

Study co-authors are Jonathan Smallwood of the University of York in the United Kingdom and Krzysztof J. Gorgolewski and Daniel S. Margulies of the Max Planck Institute in Germany. The findings appear in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Source: UC Santa Barbara

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