January 18, 2017
Juntendo University Corporate Communications
(Juntendo, 18 January) Juntendo University researchers identify areas of the brain responsible for metacognitive memory evaluation in macaque monkeys.
"We know how confidently we know," explain Yasushi Miyashita and colleagues at Juntendo University Graduate School of Medicine and the University of Tokyo School of Medicine in their recent report. The evaluation of how well we remember things requires a metacognitive self-monitoring of memory-states termed "metamemory". Now Miyashita and co-authors have identified which parts of the brain are essential for these "metamemory" processes for the first time using macaque monkeys.
The self-reflective mental processes of metamemory require a high level of cognition, once thought to be unique to humans. However over the past ten years metacognitive assessment of perception have been reported in non-linguistic animals, and researchers have developed experimental frameworks for investigating its brain mechanisms in animals. However, so far little is known of metamemory, because it requires the reconstruction of past experiences as current mental representations for metacognitive assessment, the process of which naturally requires more self-reflective and introspective information processing than perceptual metacognition. Amongst the other unanswered questions, it is unknown whether the processes that implement metamemory were distinct from the processes of memory itself.
Miyashita and colleagues showed macaque monkeys a series of four pictures of objects. Afterwards, the monkeys were shown an additional picture, and asked to indicate, not just whether they had seen the additional picture before but to wager how confident they were in their response. Functional MRI mapping of the whole brain during these tests indicated distinct areas that were activated during the metamemory processes.
The brain images also revealed that the area responsible for metamemory of the last picture – recent memory - was different from that for the first picture –remote memory. Reversible deactivation of these areas noticeably impinged on the monkeys’ metamemory functions without affecting their ability to memorize the pictures.
The researchers concluded, "The findings reveal that parallel metamemory streams supervise recognition networks for remote and recent memory, without contributing to recognition itself."