How Well Does Your Brain Know You?

Metacognition is the science of introspection. How well we know ourselves compared to how well we think we know ourselves could have profound consequences for medicine and philosophy. 

What's the Latest Development?


Determining how well the brain can judge its own behavior is a tricky matter because it requires thinking about thinkingin other words, introspection. Dr. Steve Fleming of New York University has been designing experiments to measure the difference between what we think we know about ourselves and who we really are. In one experiment, people were shown different shades of gray and asked to choose the darker shade. People consistently picked the darker shade but rated their ability to distinguish between them at very different levels. 

What's the Big Idea?

Strangely, there is often a gap between what we think we should do and what we actually do, not in terms of moral fortitude but in much simpler situations. Sometimes we tell ourselves we want a Snickers but might pick up a Twix instead. The excuse, 'I just wasn't thinking', is not uncommon in our culture. Using MRI machines, Fleming found that differences in brain biology, particularly in the frontal cortex, correlate to differences in the accuracy of our self-reflection. When it comes to ascribing blame and punishment, a pillar of our justice system, the accuracy of self-reflection is often taken as given.

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