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J Cogn Neurosci. 2004 Sep;16(7):1131-42.

Dissociating confidence and accuracy: functional magnetic resonance imaging shows origins of the subjective memory experience.

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  • 1Center for Neurocognitive Studies, Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, 221 Longwood Ave., Boston, MA 02115.


Successful memory typically implies both objective accuracy and subjective confidence, but there are instances when confidence and accuracy diverge. This dissociation suggests that there may be distinct neural patterns of activation related to confidence and accuracy. We used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging to study the encoding of novel face--name associations, assessed with a postscan memory test that included objective measures of accuracy and subjective measures of confidence. We showed specific neural activity in the left inferior prefrontal cortex associated with trials when subjects expressed high confidence that they had chosen the correct name for the face and made a correct identification. Moreover, we found that this region was also associated with imparting high confidence when subjects chose the incorrect name. However, medial temporal lobe regions showed activity only for high-confidence correct trials. Many functional magnetic resonance imaging studies have shown that the medial temporal lobe and left prefrontal regions are particularly important for the successful formation of memories by using a combination of subjective and objective measures. Our findings suggest that these regions may be differentially involved in the objective and subjective components of memory and that the origins of confidence-accuracy dissociations may be related to incomplete activation of the neural pattern seen in successful encoding. These findings may also aid understanding of eyewitness misidentifications and memory distortions.

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