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Neural correlates of metacognition across the adult lifespan

Metacognitive accuracy describes the degree of overlap between the subjective perception of one’s decision accuracy (i.e. confidence) and objectively observed performance. With older age, the need for accurate metacognitive evaluation increases; however, error detection rates typically decrease.
We investigated the effect of ageing on metacognitive accuracy using event-related potentials (ERPs) reflecting error detection and confidence: the error/correct negativity (N e/c ) and the error/correct positivity (P e/c ). Sixty-five healthy adults (20 to 76 years) completed a complex Flanker task and provided confidence ratings.
We found that metacognitive accuracy declined with age beyond the expected decline in task performance (see Fig.), while the adaptive adjustment of behaviour was well preserved. Pe amplitudes following errors varied by confidence rating, but they did not mirror the reduction in metacognitive accuracy. Ne amplitudes decreased with age for low confidence errors.
The results suggest that age-related difficulties in metacognitive evaluation could be related to an impaired integration of decision accuracy and confidence information processing. Ultimately, training the metacognitive evaluation of fundamental decisions in older adults might constitute a promising endeavour.

Overhoff 2021

Figure. Metacognition across the lifespan. (A) Metacognitive accuracy (Phi) decreased with age. Dots represent means of individual participants. (B) Confidence ratings for errors and correct trials were significantly predicted by age (in years). With increasing age, confidence was reduced for correct responses and increased for errors.


Overhoff, H., Ko, Y. H., Feuerriegel, D., Fink, G. R., Stahl, J., Weiss, P. H., Bode, S., & Niessen, E. (2021). Neural correlates of metacognition across the adult lifespan. Neurobiology of Aging, 108, 34-46.

Correspondence to:

Helen Overhoff