MetaLab Masters student Roy Tal has been awarded the 2019 Richard Frackowiak MSc Prize for the highest scoring student on UCL’s MSc Brain and Mind Sciences. Congratulations to Roy and his supervisor Matan!
Steve was interviewed by CUNY philosopher Richard Brown for his great YouTube series Consciousness Live - very much unscripted and lots of fun! Amongst other things we talked about science writing, metacognition, generative models, consciousness and the prefrontal cortex.
We are sad to say goodbye to Marion Rouault who is leaving the lab to take up a new position at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris. Marion was one of the founding members of the MetaLab, and had a fantastically productive few years here in London - we will greatly miss having her around, and wish her all the best for her next steps!
We had a lab picnic on a lovely spring evening on Primrose Hill to give Marion a fitting send off:
MetaLab Masters student Lion Schulz will take up a PhD position with Peter Dayan at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in September. Congratulations to Lion!
Matan has been awarded a prestigious UCL Bogue Fellowship to study how self-models of attention and perception form and develop over infancy and childhood and to characterise these models in adults. Matan plans to use this award to fund a visit to Josh Tenenbaum's lab at MIT for 3 months later this year. Congratulations to Matan!
In the paper we developed a new paradigm to investigate how external feedback and local decision confidence relate to global self-performance estimates (SPEs) , and whether local fluctuations in decision confidence inform SPEs when external feedback is unavailable. We showed that fluctuations in confidence contribute to global SPEs over and above effects of objective performance and reaction times. Surprisingly, we found that humans tend to underestimate their performance in the absence of feedback, compared with a condition with full feedback, despite objective performance being similar in the two cases. We hope that study of global self-beliefs formation will advance our understanding of self-efficacy distortion in psychiatric disorders.
Max’s paper entitled "Metacognitive Failure as a Feature of Those Holding Radical Beliefs" has been published in Current Biology.
We found that radical participants (as measured by scores on dogmatism and authoritarianism questionnaires) showed reduced insight into the correctness of their choices and less sensitivity to post-decision evidence, indicating a generic resistance to revising mistakes. The effect sizes were small, but robust and replicable in a second independent dataset. Given that the tasks were far removed from real-world issues we think it’s striking that basic difference in metacognition predict answers to questions indicative of radical beliefs. A blogpost unpacking these findings further can be found here.
MetaLab postdoc Dan Bang has been awarded a 4-year Sir Henry Wellcome Fellowship by the Wellcome Trust to work on linking neurochemistry, confidence and social context. He plans to split his time between Harvard University (with Sam Gershman), Wake Forest University (with Ken Kishida) and UCL. Congratulations to Dan!
A paper entitled "Human Metacognition Across Domains: Insights from Individual Differences and Neuroimaging" has been published in Personality Neuroscience. Congratulations to Marion and Andy!
The article reviews recent literature on the domain-generality of human metacognition, drawing on evidence from individual differences, behavioural studies and neuroimaging. A meta-analysis of behavioural studies found perceptual metacognitive ability being correlated across different sensory modalities, but not between metacognition of perception and memory. Evidence from neuroimaging studies provided a complementary perspective on the domain-generality of metacognition, revealing co-existence of neural signatures that are common and distinct across tasks.
Steve has been awarded a 2018 Philip Leverhulme Prize for Psychology from the Leverhulme Trust, together with Prof. Nichola Raihani (also at UCL), Prof. Emily Cross, Dr. Claire Haworth and Dr. Harriet Over. Leverhulme awards are granted annually in recognition of the international impact and future potential of the work. Steve plans to use the £100k award to support work in the lab developing new models of conscious awareness. Read more here!
Jason's study on how metacognition can be improved with training (and how such gains may generalise across different tasks) has been covered by Clare Wilson in the New Scientist. The paper is in press in JEP:General, and a preprint can be found here.
Dan Bang has contributed to an excellent episode of the Anthill podcast on confidence hosted by The Conversation. Among other things he discusses our recent results on the role of medial PFC in the construction of confidence.
Last weekend we pitched up at Latitude Festival as part of the BrainHub, organized together with James Kilner's group. We used this as an opportunity to get some user feedback about the latest prototype version of "MetacogMission" - an app that Andy McWilliams is developing together with London-based technology company DamnFine to study metacognition via a series of decision-making games. Thanks for everyone who took part - we got tons of useful feedback and pilot data that we are now starting to sift through.
Here's a brilliant timelapse video of the BrainHub put together by Alex Galvez-Pol in James' lab. We are also very grateful to WCHN Public Engagement coordinator Cassie Hughill who held everything together and kept everyone fed and watered, and to Ben from DamnFine for being on hand for remote tech support all the way from New York! And last but not least, Max, Matan, Xiao and Alisa who worked hard to make it a great event.
Dan Bang's paper isolating decision confidence from its component parts has recently been published in PNAS - congratulations Dan! An open access preprint can be found here, and code/data supporting the study are on our lab GitHub site.
In this paper we devised a novel psychophysical task that allowed us to independently manipulate the certainty about the perceptual input (the direction of a cloud of moving dots) and the difficulty of the decision (how close the dots were to a reference line). Both factors influenced confidence. Using fMRI, we found that some brain regions previously implicated in the encoding of decision confidence actually tracked either perceptual certainty (such as the parietal cortex) or decision difficulty (such as pre-SMA), whereas confidence was uniquely tracked in medial PFC (see image below). This may explain why prefrontal damage is regularly associated with dysfunction in metacognition (higher-level estimates of task performance), without affecting "lower level" encoding of beliefs.
This week the MetaLab teamed up with Benedetto De Martino's BdMLab for a joint retreat at the Royal Society. We were glad to have Chris Frith, Nick Shea and Howard Bowman join us as guests of honour. There were plenty of half-baked ideas (from PI's), some more fully-baked data blitzes and a surprise exchanges of books, before tapas and wine at Terroir.
Our paper "Neural mediators of changes of mind about perceptual decisions" is now out in Nature Neuroscience. This study was carried out by Steve while he was a postdoc at NYU in collaboration with Nathaniel Daw and Illy van der Putten, and used manipulations of post-decision evidence to identify differential contributions of subregions of the prefrontal cortex during changes of mind. Redmond O'Connell and Peter Murphy wrote a nice commentary on the study (from which the image below is taken from) in the same issue which can be accessed here.