The Cognition/Metacognition Trade-Off

Psychol Sci. 2022 Apr;33(4):613-628. doi: 10.1177/09567976211043428. Epub 2022 Mar 25.


Integration to boundary is an optimal decision algorithm that accumulates evidence until the posterior reaches a decision boundary, resulting in the fastest decisions for a target accuracy. Here, we demonstrated that this advantage incurs a cost in metacognitive accuracy (confidence), generating a cognition/metacognition trade-off. Using computational modeling, we found that integration to a fixed boundary results in less variability in evidence integration and thus reduces metacognitive accuracy, compared with a collapsing-boundary or a random-timer strategy. We examined how decision strategy affects metacognitive accuracy in three cross-domain experiments, in which 102 university students completed a free-response session (evidence terminated by the participant's response) and an interrogation session (fixed number of evidence samples controlled by the experimenter). In both sessions, participants observed a sequence of evidence and reported their choice and confidence. As predicted, the interrogation protocol (preventing integration to boundary) enhanced metacognitive accuracy. We also found that in the free-response sessions, participants integrated evidence to a collapsing boundary-a strategy that achieves an efficient compromise between optimizing choice and metacognitive accuracy.

Keywords: computational models; decision confidence; decision-making; diffusion model; integration to boundary; judgment; metacognition; optimality; preregistered; reaction time.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cognition
  • Computer Simulation
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Judgment
  • Metacognition*