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Motivational signals disrupt metacognitive signals in the human ventromedial prefrontal cortex

Research group Willuhn
Publication year 2022
Published in Communications Biology
Authors D. Denys, Monja Hoven, Gina Brunner, Nina S de Boer, Anna E Goudriaan, Ruth J van Holst, Judy Luigjes, Maël Lebreton,

A growing body of evidence suggests that, during decision-making, BOLD signal in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) correlates both with motivational variables – such as incentives and expected values – and metacognitive variables – such as confidence judgments – which reflect the subjective probability of being correct. At the behavioral level, we recently demonstrated that the value of monetary stakes bias confidence judgments, with gain (respectively loss) prospects increasing (respectively decreasing) confidence judgments, even for similar levels of difficulty and performance. If and how this value-confidence interaction is reflected in the VMPFC remains unknown. Here, we used an incentivized perceptual decision-making fMRI task that dissociates key decision-making variables, thereby allowing to test several hypotheses about the role of the VMPFC in the value-confidence interaction. While our initial analyses seemingly indicate that the VMPFC combines incentives and confidence to form an expected value signal, we falsified this conclusion with a meticulous dissection of qualitative activation patterns. Rather, our results show that strong VMPFC confidence signals observed in trials with gain prospects are disrupted in trials with no – or negative (loss) – monetary prospects. Deciphering how decision variables are represented and interact at finer scales seems necessary to better understand biased (meta)cognition.

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