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Distinct Encoding Of Decision Confidence In Human Medial Prefrontal Cortex

Dan Bang, Stephen M. Fleming

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AbstractOur confidence in a choice and the evidence pertaining to a choice appear to be inseparable. An emerging computational consensus is, however, that the brain should maintain separate estimates of these quantities for adaptive behavioural control. Here we devised a psychophysical task to decouple confidence in a perceptual decision from both the reliability of sensory evidence and the relation of such evidence with respect to a choice boundary. Using human fMRI, we found that an area in medial prefrontal cortex (perigenual anterior cingulate cortex, pgACC) tracked expected performance, an aggregate signature of decision confidence, whereas neural areas previously proposed to encode decision confidence instead tracked sensory reliability (posterior parietal cortex and ventral striatum) or boundary distance (pre-supplementary motor area). Supporting that information encoded by pgACC is central to a subjective sense of decision confidence, we show that pgACC activity does not simply co-vary with expected performance but is also linked to within-subject and between-subject variation in explicit confidence estimates. Our study is consistent with the proposal that the brain maintains choice-dependent and choice-independent estimates of certainty, and sheds light on why dysfunctional confidence often emerges following prefrontal lesions and/or degeneration.Significance StatementRecent computational models propose that our sense of confidence in a choice reflects an estimate of the probability that the choice is correct. However, it has proven difficult to experimentally separate decision confidence from its component parts, such as our certainty about perceptual evidence or choice requirements. Here we devised a task to dissociate these quantities and isolate a distinct encoding of decision confidence in the medial prefrontal cortex of the human brain. We show that activity in this area not only tracks expected performance on a task but is also related to both within-subject and between-subject variation in a subjective sense of confidence. Our study illuminates why dysfunctional confidence often emerges following damage to prefrontal cortex.