MAR 16, 2017 10:30 AM PDT
When confidence and consciousness collide: neural and computational approaches to understanding how the brain creates subjective experience
Presented at the Neuroscience 2017 Virtual Event
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  • Postdoctoral Researcher, University of California, Los Angeles
      Megan Peters is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles. She received her B.A. in Cognitive Science from Brown University in 2006 and her Ph.D. in Computational Cognitive Neuroscience from UCLA in 2014. During her doctoral training she received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and a National Institutes of Health Training Fellowship. Megan's research uses computational models and machine learning approaches to explore the neural computations underlying perception, metacognition, and subjective awareness. Her research uses a multidisciplinary approach to gain insights from human behavior and neuroscience as well as non-human primate and rodent models.


    As we experience our environments, our brains are constantly computing inferences about the most likely state of the world: Are those lights in the distance headlights or streetlights?  If headlights, how fast are they going?  Is it safe to cross the street?  These perceptual decisions are often accompanied by subjective evaluations of certainty: Are you sure those are headlights? Are you sure they’re approaching slowly enough?  But there are other subjective aspects of perception, too, such as how bright the lights seem to be, regardless of their identity.  Are the neural representations and computations underlying these two kinds of subjective experiences linked in any way, or is a light’s brightness completely separable from your uncertainty about whether it is a headlight or a streetlight?

    Despite increasing efforts to answer these questions, how the brain computes metacognitive judgments of certainty versus other subjective evaluations is not well understood.  In this talk, I will present behavioral, neural, and computational evidence that the neural computations underlying subjective confidence are inextricably intertwined with those underlying other subjective experiences, including perceptual awareness.  This fundamental link explains many puzzling and seemingly sub-optimal metacognitive behaviors seen across species by providing a biologically plausible substrate that can parsimoniously describe perception, metacognition, and subjective awareness

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