Computations of confidence are modulated by mentalizing ability
E van der Plas, D Mason, LA Livingston, J Craigie, F Happe, SM Fleming
paper | code

Abstract: Do people have privileged and direct access to their own minds, or do we infer our own thoughts and feelings indirectly, as we would infer the mental states of others?  In this study we shed light on this question by examining how mentalizing ability—the set of processes involved in understanding other people’s thoughts and feelings—relates to metacognitive efficiency—the ability to reflect on one’s own performance. In a general population sample (N = 477) we showed that mentalizing ability and self-reported socio-communicative skills are positively correlated with perceptual metacognitive efficiency, even after controlling for choice accuracy. By modelling the trial-by-trial formation of confidence we showed that mentalizing ability predicted the association between response times and confidence, suggesting those with better mentalizing ability were more sensitive to inferential cues to self-performance. In a second study we showed that both mentalizing and metacognitive efficiency were lower in autistic participants (N = 40) when compared with age, gender, IQ, and education-matched non-autistic participants (N = 40). Together, our results suggest that the ability to understand other people’s minds predicts self-directed metacognition.

Isolating cultural contributions to metacognition
E van der Plas, S Zhang, K Dong, D Bang, J Li, ND Wright, SM Fleming
paper | code

Abstract: Some aspects of human metacognition, such as the ability to consciously evaluate our beliefs and decisions, are thought to be culturally acquired. However, direct evidence for this claim is lacking. As an initial step in answering this question, here we examine differences in metacognitive performance between populations matched for occupation (students), income, demographics and general intelligence, but drawn from two distinct cultural milieus (Beijing, China and London, UK). We show that Chinese participants have heightened metacognitive evaluation of perceptual decision-making task performance in comparison with UK participants. These differences manifested in boosts to post-decisional processing following error trials, despite an absence of differences in first-order performance. In a second experiment, we replicate these findings in a new task that replaced post-decision evidence with equivalent social advice. Together, our results are consistent with a proposal that metacognitive capacity is shaped via socio-cultural interactions.

A systematic review of metacognitive decision-making in autism
E van der Plas, D Mason, F Happe

Abstract: Autistic people often have an atypical profile of abilities: while excelling on some structured tasks, many struggle with making real life decisions. To test whether decision-making in autism is different from in typically developing controls, we reviewed 74 studies that compared decision-making performance between autistic and comparison participants (N=1,932 autistic and N=3,179 comparison participants) between 1998 and 2020. Our searches revealed four main decision-making paradigms that are widely used in the field of decision neuroscience: perceptual discrimination, reward learning, metacognition, and value-based decision-making tasks. Our synthesis highlights that perceptual processing and reward learning were relatively intact in autistic versus comparison participants, whereas subjective decision-making and metacognitive accuracy were often atypical. Furthermore, decision-making differences were most pronounced when the autistic participant was explicitly probed to report on an internal belief, whilst implicit markers of the same decision (e.g., error related response times) were usually not different. Our findings provide evidence in favour of a metacognitive explanation of decision-making atypicalities in autism.

Advice-taking as a bridge between decision neuroscience and mental capacity
E van der Plas, AS David, SM Fleming
paper | blogpost

Abstract: A person’s capacity to process advice is an important aspect of decision making in the real world. For example, in decisions about treatment, the way patients respond to the advice of family, friends and medical professionals may be used (intentionally or otherwise) as a marker of the “use or weigh” requirement of decision-making capacity. Here we explore neuroscientific research on decision-making to identify features of advice-taking that help conceptualize this requirement. We focus on studies of the neural and computational basis of decision-making in laboratory settings. These studies originally investigated simple perceptual decisions about ambiguous stimuli, but have more recently been extended to more complex “value-based” decisions involving the comparison of subjective preferences. Value-based decisions are a useful model system for capacity-related decision-making as they do not have an objectively ‘correct’ answer and are instead based on subjective preferences. In this context, advice-taking can be seen as a process in which new evidence for one or other option is integrated, leading to altered behaviour or choices. We use this framework to distinguish between different types of advice-taking: private compliance consists of updating one’s privately held beliefs based on new evidence, whereas in the case of public compliance, people change their behaviour at a surface level without shifting their privately-held beliefs. Importantly, both types of advice-taking may lead to similar outcomes but rely on different decision processes. We suggest that understanding how multiple mechanisms drive advice-taking holds promise for targeting decision-making support and improving our understanding of the use and weigh requirement in cases of contested capacity.

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