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Neuropsychologia. 2016 Sep;90:46-58. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2016.05.003. Epub 2016 May 3.

A boost of confidence: The role of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex in memory, decision-making, and schemas.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 3G3; Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest, Toronto, ON, Canada M6A 2E1. Electronic address: mhebscher@research.baycrest.org.
2
Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 3G3; Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest, Toronto, ON, Canada M6A 2E1; Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery, Toronto, ON, Canada M6A 2E1. Electronic address: agilboa@research.baycrest.org.

Abstract

The ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) has been implicated in a wide array of functions across multiple domains. In this review, we focus on the vmPFC's involvement in mediating strategic aspects of memory retrieval, memory-related schema functions, and decision-making. We suggest that vmPFC generates a confidence signal that informs decisions and memory-guided behaviour. Confidence is central to these seemingly diverse functions: (1) Strategic retrieval: lesions to the vmPFC impair an early, automatic, and intuitive monitoring process ("feeling of rightness"; FOR) often associated with confabulation (spontaneous reporting of erroneous memories). Critically, confabulators typically demonstrate high levels of confidence in their false memories, suggesting that faulty monitoring following vmPFC damage may lead to indiscriminate confidence signals. (2) Memory schemas: the vmPFC is critically involved in instantiating and maintaining contextually relevant schemas, broadly defined as higher level knowledge structures that encapsulate lower level representational elements. The correspondence between memory retrieval cues and these activated schemas leads to FOR monitoring. Stronger, more elaborate schemas produce stronger FOR and influence confidence in the veracity of memory candidates. (3) Finally, we review evidence on the vmPFC's role in decision-making, extending this role to decision-making during memory retrieval. During non-mnemonic and mnemonic decision-making the vmPFC automatically encodes confidence. Confidence signal in the vmPFC is revealed as a non-linear relationship between a first-order monitoring assessment and second-order action or choice. Attempting to integrate the multiple functions of the vmPFC, we propose a posterior-anterior organizational principle for this region. More posterior vmPFC regions are involved in earlier, automatic, subjective, and contextually sensitive functions, while more anterior regions are involved in controlled actions based on these earlier functions. Confidence signals reflect the non-linear relationship between first-order, posterior-mediated and second-order, anterior-mediated processes and are represented along the entire axis.

KEYWORDS:

Confabulation; Confidence; Decision-Making; Memory; Schema; Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex

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