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.
The neural mechanisms of metacognition remain controversial. A novel “decision–redecision” paradigm to investigate the neural metacognitive processes involved in redecision as compared to the initial decision-making process was used in this study. The participants underwent a perceptual decision-making task and a rule-based decision-making task during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
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.
Results show that the lFPC was specifically involved in metacognitive control of decision adjustment and was subject to different control demands of the tasks.
A separate neural system in the PFC is essentially involved in metacognition and further, that functions of the PFC in metacognition are dissociable.
The research paper “neural system of metacognition accompanying decision-making in the prefrontal cortex” constructed and proposed the extent and generality of the functional architecture of the metacognition neural system, which is separate from the decision-making neural system.
The metacognition neural system is composed of the metacognitive monitoring system and the metacognitive control system. The metacognitive monitoring system, consisting of the dACC and AIC regions, is domain general. It reads out the uncertainty information from the decision-making process and quantitatively encodes the decision uncertainty states. The metacognitive control system of the lFPC region implements high-level cognitive control (e.g., strategy), dominant in rule-based and abstract inference tasks (e.g., the Sudoku task), and may compete with low-level cognitive control (e.g., attention), dominant in perceptual tasks (e.g., the RDM task).
The high-level cognitive control by the lFPC region could be modulated by intrinsic motivational signals from the VS region.
These two subsystems separately monitor and control the decision-making system, in which the IFJ region is critically involved. Thus, the decision-making neural system and the metacognition neural system form a closed-loop system to control and adapt our behavior towards desired goals.