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Cereb Cortex. 2016 Jan;26(1):118-130. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhu181. Epub 2014 Aug 11.

The Relationship between Perceptual Decision Variables and Confidence in the Human Brain.

Hebart MN1,2,3,4, Schriever Y5, Donner TH1,6,7, Haynes JD1,2,3,8.

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Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, Charité Universitätsmedizin, 10115 Berlin, Germany.
Berlin Center for Advanced Neuroimaging, Charité Universitätsmedizin, 10117 Berlin, Germany.
Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 10099 Berlin, Germany.
Department of Systems Neuroscience, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, 20251 Hamburg, Germany.
Department of Psychology, University of Utrecht, 3584 CS, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, 1018 XA, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Cognitive Science Center, University of Amsterdam, 1018 WS, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, 04103 Leipzig, Germany.


Perceptual confidence refers to the degree to which we believe in the accuracy of our percepts. Signal detection theory suggests that perceptual confidence is computed from an internal "decision variable," which reflects the amount of available information in favor of one or another perceptual interpretation of the sensory input. The neural processes underlying these computations have, however, remained elusive. Here, we used fMRI and multivariate decoding techniques to identify regions of the human brain that encode this decision variable and confidence during a visual motion discrimination task. We used observers' binary perceptual choices and confidence ratings to reconstruct the internal decision variable that governed the subjects' behavior. A number of areas in prefrontal and posterior parietal association cortex encoded this decision variable, and activity in the ventral striatum reflected the degree of perceptual confidence. Using a multivariate connectivity analysis, we demonstrate that patterns of brain activity in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex reflecting the decision variable were linked to brain signals in the ventral striatum reflecting confidence. Our results suggest that the representation of perceptual confidence in the ventral striatum is derived from a transformation of the continuous decision variable encoded in the cerebral cortex.


confidence; decision-making; fMRI; multivariate pattern analysis; signal detection theory

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