Thinking About Thinking

In a new article in Science, a group of researchers led by Geraint Rees from University College London, suggest they have a found a neural correlate for introspection.  The region of interest is the anterior prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is also implicated in other higher cognitive behaviors like planning, decision-making, social intelligence, and determining predicted outcomes of one’s actions [it is the frontal cortex that was damaged in the infamous case of Phineas Gage].

“Introspection” was measured by having people answer a tough question, and subsequently measure how the result of their answer (right vs wrong) affected their confidence in their own decision making in a series of follow up questions.  More introspection meant a correlation between the result of their early answers to their confidence in later ones; in a sense, introspection is the meta-analysis of one’s own thoughts.  FMRI data showed that increased gray matter volume in the prefrontal cortex was correlated with high levels of introspection.


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Sam McDougle

SAM MCDOUGLE is a Ph.D. candidate in Psychology and Neuroscience at Princeton University. His writing has appeared in Vice and The Atlantic.

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