UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology


Scientists identify link between introspection and brain structure

20 September 2010

Our ability to reflect on our own thoughts, emotions and behaviour is one of the key aspects of consciousness and what makes us human, but the biological basis of this process – known as 'introspection' – has until now been unknown.

Now, researchers at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL (IoN Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience) have identified an area of the brain that is larger in people who are good at introspection, suggesting that this area may play a key role in the process. The study, published in the journal Science, was announced at the British Science Festival in Birmingham.

"We introspect when we think about our own thoughts, feelings or the decisions we have made," says Steve Fleming, joint first author of the study. "It's something we do all the time, but some people are better at it than others. Even if we don't get feedback when we make a choice, we often know intuitively if it's a good or a bad decision."

"We found a correlation between introspective ability and the structure of a small area of prefrontal cortex near the front of the brain" explains Professor Rees. "The better a person was at introspection, the more grey matter they had in this area. The same was true for the white matter or nerve connections in this area.

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reference >>  Relating Introspective Accuracy to Individual Differences in Brain Structure. Stephen M. Fleming, Rimona S. Weil, Zoltan Nagy, Raymond J. Dolan, and Geraint Rees. Science 17 September 2010 329: 1541-1543 [DOI: 10.1126/science.1191883