Psychiatric symptom dimensions are associated with dissociable shifts in metacognition but not task performance

Published in Biological Psychiatry, 2018

Recommended citation: Rouault, M.*, Seow, T.*, Gillan, C. M., & Fleming, S. M. (2018). Psychiatric symptom dimensions are associated with dissociable shifts in metacognition but not task performance. Biological psychiatry, 84(6), 443-451.

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Distortions in metacognition—the ability to reflect on and control other cognitive processes—are thought to be characteristic of poor mental health. However, it remains unknown whether such shifts in self-evaluation are due to specific alterations in metacognition and/or a downstream consequence of changes in decision-making processes. Using perceptual decision making as a model system, we employed a computational psychiatry approach to relate parameters governing both decision formation and metacognitive evaluation to self-reported transdiagnostic symptom dimensions in a large general population sample (N = 995). Variability in psychopathology was unrelated to either speed or accuracy of decision formation. In contrast, leveraging a dimensional approach, we revealed independent relationships between psychopathology and metacognition: a symptom dimension related to anxiety and depression was associated with lower confidence and heightened metacognitive efficiency, whereas a dimension characterizing compulsive behaviour and intrusive thoughts was associated with higher confidence and lower metacognitive efficiency. Furthermore, we obtained a robust double dissociation—whereas psychiatric symptoms predicted changes in metacognition but not decision performance, age predicted changes in decision performance but not metacognition. Our findings indicate a specific and pervasive link between metacognition and mental health. Our study bridges a gap between an emerging neuroscience of decision making and an understanding of metacognitive alterations in psychopathology.