Neural correlates of metacognitive ability and of feeling confident: A large-scale fMRI study

Pascal Molenberghs, Fynn-Mathis Trautwein, Anne Böckler, Tania Singer, Philipp Kanske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


One important aspect of metacognition is the ability to accurately evaluate one’s performance. People vary widely in their metacognitive ability and in general are too confident when evaluating their performance. This often leads to poor decision making with potentially disastrous consequences. To further our understanding of the neural underpinnings of these processes, this fMRI study investigated inter-individual differences in metacognitive ability and effects of trial-by-trial variation in subjective feelings of confidence when making metacognitive assessments. Participants (N = 308) evaluated their performance in a high-level social and cognitive reasoning task. The results showed that higher metacognitive accuracy was associated with a decrease in activation in the anterior medial prefrontal cortex, an area previously linked to metacognition on perception and memory. Moreover, the feeling of confidence about one’s choices was associated with an increase of activation in reward, memory and motor related areas including bilateral striatum and hippocampus, while less confidence was associated with activation in areas linked with negative affect and uncertainty, including dorsomedial prefrontal and bilateral orbitofrontal cortex. This might indicate that positive affect is related to higher confidence thereby biasing metacognitive decisions towards overconfidence. In support, behavioural analyses revealed that increased confidence was associated with lower metacognitive accuracy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1942-1951
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


  • metacognition
  • fMRI
  • confidence
  • decision making
  • social neuroscience

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