Domain-specific impairment in metacognitive accuracy following anterior prefrontal lesions.
Fleming SM., Ryu J., Golfinos JG., Blackmon KE.
Humans have the capacity to evaluate the success of cognitive processes, known as metacognition. Convergent evidence supports a role for anterior prefrontal cortex in metacognitive judgements of perceptual processes. However, it is unknown whether metacognition is a global phenomenon, with anterior prefrontal cortex supporting metacognition across domains, or whether it relies on domain-specific neural substrates. To address this question, we measured metacognitive accuracy in patients with lesions to anterior prefrontal cortex (n = 7) in two distinct domains, perception and memory, by assessing the correspondence between objective performance and subjective ratings of performance. Despite performing equivalently to a comparison group with temporal lobe lesions (n = 11) and healthy controls (n = 19), patients with lesions to the anterior prefrontal cortex showed a selective deficit in perceptual metacognitive accuracy (meta-d'/d', 95% confidence interval 0.28-0.64). Crucially, however, the anterior prefrontal cortex lesion group's metacognitive accuracy on an equivalent memory task remained unimpaired (meta-d'/d', 95% confidence interval 0.78-1.29). Metacognitive accuracy in the temporal lobe group was intact in both domains. Our results support a causal role for anterior prefrontal cortex in perceptual metacognition, and indicate that the neural architecture of metacognition, while often considered global and domain-general, comprises domain-specific components that may be differentially affected by neurological insult.