MindTalks: The neurobiology of confidence: from statistics to neurons (Dr. Torben Ott)


How confident are you? As humans, aware of our subjective sense of confidence, we can readily answer. Knowing your level of confidence helps to optimize both routine decisions such as whether to go back and check if the front door was locked and momentous ones like finding a partner for life. Yet the inherently subjective nature of confidence has limited investigations by neurobiologists. We have developed a conceptual framework that roots subjective confidence in a statistical computation that can be behaviorally studied in non-human animals, thus enabling to study its neural basis. In an economic decision task, we asked humans and rats to invest time into choices based on ambiguous sensory evidence. Both humans and rats invest time according to their degree of confidence, the probability that their choice was correct. Single neurons in rat orbitofrontal cortex encode statistical decision confidence and predict two confidence-guided behaviors: trial-by-trial time investment serving as confidence reports and learning of choices across trials, thereby revealing abstract representations of decision confidence in rat frontal cortex. This work paves the way for interrogating the neural circuits that mediate confidence-based economic decisions and sheds light on the neural basis of metacognitive abilities.


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