A brain system that builds confidence in what we sense

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27 Sep 2017, 5:15 pm

A brain system that builds confidence in what we see, hear and touch
September 25, 2017 by Nik Papageorgiou

A series of experiments at EPFL provide conclusive evidence that the brain uses a single mechanism (supramodality) to estimate confidence in different senses such as audition, touch, or vision. The study is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Behavioral scientists and psychologists use the term "metacognition" to describe our ability to access, report and regulate our own mental states: "thinking about thinking," "knowing about knowing" "being aware about being aware," are all higher-order cognitive skills that fit this category.

Specifically, metacognition enables the brain to compute a degree of confidence when we perceive events from the external world, such as a sound, light, or touch. The accuracy of confidence estimates is crucial in daily life, for instance when hearing a baby crying, or smelling a gas leak. Confidence estimates also need to combine input from multiple senses simultaneously, for instance when buying a violin based on how it sounds, feels, and looks.

From a neuroscience point of view, the way metacognition operates in different senses, and for combination of senses is still a mystery: Does metacognition use the same rules for visual, auditory, or tactile stimuli, or does it use different components of each of sensory domains? The first of these two ideas – i.e. the "common rules" – is known as "supramodality" and it has proven controversial among neuroscientists.

Some day I'll get it figured out; at least some of it, probably not all of it.