Neural Substrate for Metacognitive Accuracy of Tactile Working Memory
The human prefrontal cortex (PFC) has been shown to be important for metacognition, the capacity to monitor and control one's own cognitive processes. Here we dissected the neural architecture of somatosensory metacognition using navigated single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to modulate tactile working memory (WM) processing. We asked subjects to perform tactile WM tasks and to give a confidence rating for their performance after each trial. We circumvented the challenge of interindividual variability in functional brain anatomy by applying TMS to two PFC areas that, according to tractography, were neurally connected with the primary somatosensory cortex (S1): one area in the superior frontal gyrus (SFG), another in the middle frontal gyrus (MFG). These two PFC locations and a control cortical area were stimulated during both spatial and temporal tactile WM tasks. We found that tractography-guided TMS of the SFG area selectively enhanced metacognitive accuracy of tactile temporal, but not spatial WM. Stimulation of the MFG area that was also neurally connected with the S1 had no such effect on metacognitive accuracy of either the temporal or spatial tactile WM. Our findings provide causal evidence that the PFC contains distinct neuroanatomical substrates for introspective accuracy of tactile WM.