People are often aware of their mistakes, and report levels of confidence in their choices that correlate with objective performance. These metacognitive assessments of decision quality are important for the guidance of behavior, particularly when external feedback is absent or sporadic. However, a computational framework that accounts for both confidence and error detection is lacking. In addition, accounts of dissociations between performance and metacognition have often relied on ad hoc assumptions, precluding a unified account of intact and impaired self-evaluation. Here we present a general Bayesian framework in which self-evaluation is cast as a "second-order" inference on a coupled but distinct decision system, computationally equivalent to inferring the performance of another actor. Second-order computation may ensue whenever there is a separation between internal states supporting decisions and confidence estimates over space and/or time. We contrast second-order computation against simpler first-order models in which the same internal state supports both decisions and confidence estimates. Through simulations we show that second-order computation provides a unified account of different types of self-evaluation often considered in separate literatures, such as confidence and error detection, and generates novel predictions about the contribution of one's own actions to metacognitive judgments. In addition, the model provides insight into why subjects' metacognition may sometimes be better or worse than task performance. We suggest that second-order computation may underpin self-evaluative judgments across a range of domains.
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