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Introspective Abilities Related to Prefrontal Cortex Anatomy

Last Updated: September 17, 2010.

The ability to introspectively examine one's thoughts appears to be related to the anatomy of an individual's anterior prefrontal cortex, according to research published in the Sept. 17 issue of Science.

FRIDAY, Sept. 17 (HealthDay News) -- The ability to introspectively examine one's thoughts appears to be related to the anatomy of an individual's anterior prefrontal cortex, according to research published in the Sept. 17 issue of Science.

Stephen M. Fleming, of the University College London, and colleagues conducted a study to objectively quantify variability in metacognitive sensitivity -- generally referred to as introspection -- between individuals, and to relate these differences to brain structure as measured by magnetic resonance imaging.

The researchers found that introspective ability was correlated with the volume of gray matter in the anterior prefrontal cortex, with increased volume seen in those with greater introspective abilities. White matter structures connected to this area also showed interindividual anatomical differences that correlated with introspective abilities. The researchers concluded that these variations suggested a specific neuroanatomic area correlated with introspective ability which is clearly different from the neuroanatomy supporting primary perception.

"The demonstration that this ability may be dependent on local and phylogenetically recent prefrontal anatomy is consistent with a conjecture that metacognitive function has been selected for during evolution, facilitating computations that allow us to introspect about self-performance," the authors write.

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