Metacognitive awareness of difficulty in action selection: The role of the cingulo-opercular network

Kobe Desender*, Martijn Teuchies*, Carlos Gonzalez Garcia, Wouter De Baene, Jelle Demanet, Marcel Brass

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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The question whether and how we are able to monitor our own cognitive states (metacognition) has been a matter of debate for decades. Do we have direct access to our cognitive processes or can we only infer them indirectly based on their consequences? In the current study, we wanted to investigate the brain circuits that underlie the metacognitive experience of fluency in action selection. To manipulate action-selection fluency we used a subliminal response priming paradigm. On each trial, both male and female human participants additionally engaged in the metacognitive process of rating how hard they felt it was to respond to the target stimulus. Despite having no conscious awareness of the prime, results showed that participants rated incompatible trials (during which subliminal primes interfered with the required response) to be more difficult than compatible trials (where primes facilitated the required response) reflecting metacognitive awareness of difficulty. This increased sense of subjective difficulty was mirrored by increased activity in the rostral cingulate zone (RCZ) and the anterior insula, two regions that are functionally closely connected. Importantly, this reflected activations that were unique to subjective difficulty ratings and were not explained by reaction times or prime-response compatibility. We interpret these findings in light of a possible grounding of the metacognitive judgement of fluency in action selection in interoceptive signals resulting from increased effort.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2512-2522
JournalJournal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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