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What is Metacognition? Christina Andrade Fielding Graduate University
PSY725: Advanced Topics in Cognitive & Affective Bases of Behavior Lee Stadtlander, PhD October 2006
What is Metacognition 2 What is Metacognition? Everyday, tons of information just pop up in front of us. Emails, Really Simple Syndication (RSS), Newsgroups, website articles, and other medium of information enter in our brain or it is discarded by it. Therefore, how do you know that you know? How do you know that you have studied some material well enough that you will remember about it next week? Activities such as planning how to advance in given task, monitoring comprehension, and evaluating progress toward the completion of a task are metacognitive in nature. Hence, Metacognitionis the ability to evaluate or monitor your own cognitive process, such as thoughts and memories, with the aim of assess your current knowledge about something and plan about future actions. Berardi-Coletta, Buyer, Dominowski, and Rellinger (1995) described metacognition as: “…an active, reflective process that is explicitly and exclusively directed at one's own cognitive activity. It involves the self-monitoring, self-evaluating, and self-regulating of ongoing tasks. We might compare this to an on-line executive processor that can observe, check, and alter routines (problem-solving strategies) already in progress” (p. 206). Research on metacognition in cognitive sciences emerged around 1970s with John Flavell and colleagues investigating children's knowledge of their own cognitions. They haveinvestigated children's knowledge about our
What is Metacognition 3 most basic mental states-desires, percepts, beliefs, knowledge, thoughts, intentions, feelings, and so on. The researchers attempted to find out what children know about the existence and behavior of the states of the mind and also what children know about how mental states affects the perceptual inputs, behavioral outputs, and other mental states (Flavell, 1999). Therefore, based on extensive research Flavell (1983) explained “What is metacognition? It has usually been broadly and rather loosely defined as any knowledge or cognitive activity that takes as its object, or regulates, any aspect of any cognitive enterprise (e.g., Flavell, 1981A); it is, again, "cognition about cognition" (p. 6). According to Flavell (1983, 1999), metacognition consists of both metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive experiences. Metacognitive knowledge refers to acquired declarative and procedural knowledge about cognitive processes and can be used to monitor cognitive processes. “It is the knowledge and beliefs, accumulated through experience and stored in long-term memory, that concern, not politics or football or electronics or needlepoint or some other domain, but the human mind and its doings” (Flavell, 1983, p. 7). For example, knowing that you have poor memory, youwill use an aid such as shopping list to remind you what you need to buy in the supermarket. Metacognitive experiences “…are cognitive or affective experiences that pertain to a cognitive enterprise, such as the sudden feeling that you do not understand something you just read” (Flavell, 1983, p. 7).
What is Metacognition 4 It’s part of the person’s subjective experience such as feelings of familiarity, difficulty, and confidence. Metacognitive experiences also generate responses and decisions relevant to the task at hand (Salonen, Vauras, & Efklides, 2005). Metacognitive knowledge is divided into three categories: knowledge of person variables, task variables and strategy variables. The first refers to the people’s generalknowledge of information-processing and the person’s own knowledge of one’s learning process. The second means understanding the task and know what to do with it. Finally, the latter, concerns the how, when and where is appropriate to use certain strategy. The person category includes your knowledge and beliefs about people as cognitive processors. The task category refers to your knowledge about the cognitive-processing implications of task information and task demands. The strategy category includes your knowledge about cognitive and metacognitive strategies. (Flavell, 1983, p. 4) Metacognition is a cognitive tool with very broad applicability (Flavell, 1983). In addition to a domain-general possibility of metacognition, metacognitive activities can be applied to a multitude of human experiences, including learning, workplace activities, therapy, memory recall, and reality monitoring (Grant, 2001). Although metacognition can be construed as domain-specific knowledge, “it should be remembered that its "domain" spans all others” (Flavell, 1983, p. 13).
What is Metacognition 5 In order to achieve successful outcomes in any general-domain or specific-domain of knowledge, a person must “think about thinking”, that is, develop metacognitive skills such as prediction, planning, monitoring, and evaluation (procedural knowledge). According to Flavell (1983), Metacognitive skills are “believed to play an important role in many types of cognitive activity, including oral communication of information, oral persuasion, oral comprehension, reading comprehension, writing, language acquisition, perception, attention, memory, problem solving, social cognition, and various forms of self-instruction and self-control” (p. 8). Researchers believe that metacognitive skills could be taught directly to people. Therefore, a person could learn techniques to improve performance in their metacognition skills and consequently reach successful outcomes in tasks at hand. The knowledge and awareness of your own cognitive process would unleash a better self-directed learner who could develop a plan, implement and maintain the plan, and evaluate the plan and its effectiveness of reaching that goal. Neuropsychology of Metacognition Shimamura (1994) investigated four examples or metacognitive impairment: blindsight, agnosia, amnesia, and metamemory impairment. They were chosen because they represent failures of knowing at various levels or cognitive processing. Moreover, these studies provide evidence that brain injury can affect specific aspects or knowing rather than causing a
What is Metacognition 6 global impairment in knowing. Thus, blindsight affects conscious knowledge of primary visual sensations, and visual agnosia affects secondary or associative processes related to object recognition. These disorders are related to different aspects or visual processing. Organic amnesia affects conscious recollection or facts and events and occurs following damage to the medial temporal lobe or the diencephalic midline. Metamemory disorders are related to problems in judgment or decision making and can occur following frontal lobe lesions. Consequently, these four examples or metacognitive impairment are mediated by different neural systems and affect knowing at different levels of analysis: perception, object recognition, conscious memory, and decision making. These investigations suggest that conscious awareness is not embodied as a single neural function or operation. Instead, it may require a convergence of information from many components. It is likely that the cerebral cortex is necessary for this convergence to occur. Nevertheless, despite the remarkable experience of conscious awareness, neuropsychological investigations suggest that a variety or cognitive components can operate without our knowledge. “Awareness or this fact may significantly temper our own confidence about the way we think and behave” (p. 276). With the recent advances in functional neuroimaging studies, researches have shown that the prefrontal cortex is particularly active on
What is Metacognition 7 tasks involving selective attention or working memory. The kinds of tasks associated with attention and working memory place large demands on online monitoring and control of information processing (Shimamura, 2000). Therefore, executive control and working memory are strongly linked to metacognition. The role of the prefrontal cortex in mediating metacognitive control of object-level information was pointed by findings from patients with frontal lobe damage from neuroimaging techniques and from basic cognitive research. The prefrontal cortex may include many such gating or filtering devices in its role in monitoring and controlling information processing. However, it is not appropriate to conclude that self-awareness or selfknowledge resides in any specific part of the brain; instead, it probably is represented by the interplay of many brain regions. (Shimamura, 2000, p. 146) Metacognition and Learning Byrd and Gholson (1985) researched reading, memory, and metacognition correlation and they said “evidence suggests that good readers differ from poor readers in their ability to use efficient reading strategies” (p. 429). The results of this investigation highlighted that the good reader uses their logical (executive) processing capabilities and that they do not rely on memory or reading skills. The strategies that could improve metacognition of reading could be, for example, delay the judgment
What is Metacognition 8 of learning (JOL) of a textbook instead of trying to recall it right way. When recalling the material instead of asking if the author’s position is true, try asking which statement supports or contradicts the author’s claim. (Wiley, Griffin, and Thiede, 2005) Berardi-Coletta et al. (1995) conducted an experiment with four groups of students for the purpose of investigating metacognition and problem-solving. Only one group received instructions to think-aloud and was asked to answer questions designed to keep their focus on the problem. These questions were asked in timely manner: What are you thinking about in terms of starting to solve this problem? (at the beginning of a trial) How are you deciding on a way to work out the order for the cards? (or How are you working out the order for the cards?) (as they paused in writing down their solution) How did you decide that this needed to be changed? (if they changed their solution attempt, i.e., erasing, switching the order, rewriting the order) How are you deciding what went wrong? (following an unsuccessful trial). (p.217) The findings corroborate that “…verbalization focuses attention on and enhances problem-domain knowledge. That is, verbalization slows one down or makes one stop and think more carefully about salient problem features
What is Metacognition 9 and critical task components” (Berardi-Coletta et al., 1995, p. 205). Other important finding is that the participant must find the solution of a problem by metacognitive processing, because when one understands the process by which a problem get solved the information is attained as knowledge. Zimmerman (1989) asserted the importance of three elements in metacognitive development: students' self-regulated learning strategies, self-efficacy perceptions of performance skill, and commitment to academic goals. According to the author, self-regulated learning strategies require actions and processes seeking information or skill through methods such as organizing and transforming information, self-monitoring, and rehearsing or using memory aids. Hence, the self-efficient learner develops metacognitive skills that will increase the perceptions about one's abilities to organize and implement actions necessary to perform a skill for the task at hand. During the course of the four experiments, Metcalfe, Schwartz and Joaquim (1993) tried to determine how people make metamemory judgments, and, specially, how they make feeling-of-knowing and tip-of-thetongue judgments. They tested four hypotheses: the target retrievability hypothesis, the cue familiarity hypothesis, the ugly stepsister hypothesis, and the omnibus retrieval hypothesis. All of the data from the four experiments was consistent with the cue familiarity hypothesis. In each case, the familiarity of the cue mapped onto the pattern of metacognitive judgments, whereas the retrievability of the correct target did not. Finally,
What is Metacognition 10 the omnibus retrieval hypothesis proposes that total retrieval, and not just correct retrieval, should relate to the magnitude of the metacognitive judgments. The findings showed that the metamemory judgments are based on cue familiarity and that the cue familiarity heuristic may result in correct judgments as long as the familiarity of the cue is correlated with correct target retrieval. Personality Differences Lin-Agler, Moore, and Zabrucky (2004) conducted an experiment in a classroom for several months. They were exploring the relations between personality and metacognitive self-evaluation. The results showed a significant role of some personality factors on metacognitive selfassessments. Their findings suggest that competitive students seem to have a goal of maintaining confidence when they provide metacognitive selfassessments across time. Compared to non-competitive students, competitive students have a tendency to give high metacognitive selfassessments. Washburn, Smith, and Taglialatela (2005) examined how 124 college students participants in their research used an uncertain response on nearthreshold trials of a psychophysical task. The researchers found that all participants showed overconfidence, but women tended to be more adaptive than men in responsiveness to uncertainty.
What is Metacognition 11 According toFlavell (1992), several researchers have examined individual variation in cognitive traits such as cognitive style and creativity. However, it was the developmental behavior geneticists that have not only documented the power of genetic differences to produce cognitive differences between children, but more surprisingly, they have also shown how the different nonshared environments that individual children experience even within the same family can increase these individual differences. Metacognition and Therapy According to Grant (2001), psychological mindedness (PM) is a form of Metacognition and that“…PM may be assessed by measuring individuals' metacognitive processes of self-reflection and insight, circumventing many of the problems associated with previous self-report measures of PM” (p. 8). The ability to comprehend the triggers and meaning of one's behavior, thoughts, and feelings are considered to be important variables mediating the outcome of directed, purposeful change in both clinical and nonclinical populations. Grant (2001) presented a new metacognitive model, and argued that PM is most logically understood as being a form of metacognition, a predisposition, with the intention of encompass abilities (skills) and motivations (interests) and it can be estimated by assessing the extent to which they engage in reflective acts of psychological inquiry, and their level of insight. Assessment of individual differences and tendency for
What is Metacognition 12 self-reflection, PM, and insight could be indispensable tools for therapist facilitating behavioral changes (Grant, 2001). Teasdale, Moore, Hayhurst, Pope, William, and Siegal (2002), conducted three experiments with patients diagnosed with Major Depression Disorder. In these experiments, they used Cognitive Therapy (CT) as treatment and the Measure of Awareness and Coping in Autobiographical Memory (MACAM) as measuring instrument. The findings supported their hypothesis that changes in metacognitive awareness decrease the relapse in depression. Increasing metacognitive awareness involves a change in relationship to thoughts and feelings. Our findings suggest that CT may prevent depressive relapse by increasing metacognitive awareness and that a program targeting such a change in relationship, rather than a change in belief in thought content, can have similar effects to CT. (Teasdale et al., 2002, p. 286) According to Bandura (1989), depressive mood affects perceivedselfefficacy and vice versa. “Mood activates, through an associative mood network, the subset of memories congruent with it. Thus, negative mood activates the failure subset, whereas positive mood activates the success subset” (p.733). The author believes that the metacognition process can be enhanced by learning self- efficacy-inducing approaches suchas direct mastery experiences, observing people similar to oneself succeed by
What is Metacognition 13 perseverant effort, social persuasion that one possesses the capabilities to succeed, and judgments of bodily states and various forms of somatic information. That is, enhancing the metacognitive process will lead to a selective recall of past successes and decrease of recall of failures. Wells (2002) discussed the treatment of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) by introducing the concept of mindfulness in the metacognitive process. “The mindfulness construct, particularly if operationalized in metacognitive terms of promoting a metacognitive mode of processing and enabling patients to disengage from perseverative self-focused processing, has been posited as a general initial strategy for recovering attentional resources for subsequent cognitive restructuring” (p. 99). The author proposed that practicing the skill of disengaging from negative thoughts plus attention training can provide the necessary setting conditions for developing and strengthening metacognitive plans stored in long-term memory that can be used to guide attention and thinking in a flexible rather than in a threatening manner in emotional disorder. According to Wells (2002), people suffering from GAD have a tendency of use worry to cope with anticipated danger and threat. A trigger of GAD symptoms can be encountered in an image or intrusive thought and it is followed by positive metacognitive beliefs (e.g., "worrying helps me cope"; "worrying keeps me safe"; "if I worry I'll be prepared"). The individuals with GAD frequently “…continue the execution of worry sequences in which a
What is Metacognition 14 range of "what if" danger-related questions are contemplated and potential strategies for dealing with threat scenarios are generated” (p. 97). That is, the person with GAD will continue to worry until he or she assesses that he or she will be able to effectively cope with threat. Hence, the aim of metacognitive-focused treatment is to modify patients' negative beliefs about “worry concerning uncontrollability and the danger of worry and to challenge positive beliefs that lead to an inflexible execution of worrying as a means of coping with anticipated threats” (p. 98). Effective cognitive therapy relies on the establishment of a metacognitive processing mode which strengthens alternative beliefs for guiding cognition and action that break the constraints imposed by maladaptive processing (e.g., threat monitoring, self-focus, worry) on cognitive modification. (Wells, 2002, p. 95) Metacognitive Accuracy The study of human metacognition and its relation to other cognitive processes seems burdened with technical and methodological difficulties. For this reason, Schwartz and Metcalfe (1994) performed a review of the literature concerning metacognitive accuracy and discovered that restricted range on either the judgments themselves or on the criterion variable can influence the accuracy or metacognitive predictions, problems may arise when comparing groups that show a different mean level or problem solving, recall, or recognition, and that dissociations in Metacognition
What is Metacognition 15 among groups may have implications for our understanding or the architecture or cognition. However, Schwartz & Metcalfe (1994) argued that these problems are solvable and with prudent experimental and theoretical techniques, valuable and valid results could be reached that would advance our understanding in human cognition. Similarly, Lin-Agler, Moore, and Zabrucky (2004) stated that researchers have examined variables that may influence metacognitive accuracy, including subject, text, and task variables and it has been suggested that metacognitive self-judgments, as a form of self-perceived ability, is likely to involve personality variables such as confidence, motivation, and optimism. Metacognition and Consciousness Nelson (1996) declared that ”Metacognition is a prime example of synergy between philosophy and psychology” (p. 113). According to the author, the data from research on metacognition seem particularly valuable as monitoring and control, which are also key constructs in the conception of consciousness. Similarly, Shimamura (2000) stated that metacognition seems to imply conscious control of information processing in many situations, such as selective attention and task switching. Also, he said that recent theoryof-mind views suggested the importance of flexible control in taking the perspective of others or of oneself in a different context. Additionally, a
What is Metacognition 16 recent study suggests that performance on some theory-of-mind tasks are affected in patients with damage to the orbitofrontal cortex considering issues of self-awareness and metacognitive control. Therefore, it is necessary to avoid a homuncular view of cognition. By this view, a little person in the head monitors and supervises cognitive function. Yet it is clear that top-down or voluntary control of cognition exists. As a way to avoid an ill-defined homuncular view, it is important to note that even simple devices can act to monitor and control. (Shimamura, 2000, p.146)
Conclusion Metacognition is a skill that can be developed and a tool that can be learned. The metacognitive skills can be applied to a variety of fields such as psychotherapy, school settings, workplace, and others. Actually, we use metacognition in our everyday life, however, some people have developed more accurate metacognitive skills, while others still struggle with their personal learning process or difficulties. Researches have shown that metacognitive skills can be taught, however, there is a lack of studies investigating the long-term efficacy of such techniques. Learning “thinking about thinking” would enrich one’s world with greater understanding of planning, execution, and monitoring one’s activities, which would increase performance, knowledge , and well-being.
What is Metacognition 17 Besides that, the psychotherapeutic process could be enhanced by metacognitive skills development, which would bring a better understanding of one’s perception of self. It would lead the therapeutic process to a level of preventive, rather than just curative.
What is Metacognition 18 References Bandura, A. (1989). Regulation of Cognitive Processes Through Perceived Self-Efficacy. Developmental Psychology, 25(5), 729-735. Berardi-Coletta, B., Buyer, L. S., Dominowski, R. L., & Rellinger, E. R. (1995). Metacognition and Problem Solving: A Process-Oriented Approach. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition [PsycARTICLES], 21(1), 205. Byrd, D. M., & Gholson, B. (1985). Reading, Memory, and Metacognition. Journal of Educational Psychology [PsycARTICLES], 77(4), 428. Flavell, J. H. (1983). Cognitive development during the postinfancy years. Washington, DC, US: National Academy of Sciences. Flavell, J. H. (1992). Cognitive Development: Past, Present, and Future. Developmental Psychology, 28(6), 998-1001. Flavell, J. H. (1999). Cognitive development: Children's knowledge about the mind. Annual Review of Psychology, 50, 21. Grant, A. M. (2001). Rethinking: Psychological mindedness: Metacognition, self-reflection, and insight. Behaviour Change, 18(1), 8. Lin-Agler, L. M., Moore, D., & Zabrucky, K. M. (2004). Effects of Personality on Metacognitive Self-Assessments. College Student Journal, 38(3), 453.
What is Metacognition 19 Metcalfe, J., Schwartz, B. L., & Joaquim, S. G. (1993). The CueFamiliarity Heuristic in Metacognition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition [PsycARTICLES], 19(4), 851. Nelson, T. O. (1996). Consciousness and Metacognition. American Psychologist [PsycARTICLES], 51(2), 102. Salonen, P., Vauras, M., & Efklides, A. (2005). Social Interaction - What Can It Tell Us about Metacognition and Coregulation in Learning? European Psychologist [PsycARTICLES], 10(3), 199. Shimamura, A. P. (1994). The Neuropsychology of Metacognition. In J. Metcalfe & A. P. Shimamura (Eds.), Metacognition (pp. 253-352): The Mitpress [MIT CogNet]. Shimamura, A. P. (2000). What is metacognition? The brain knows. The American Journal of Psychology, 113(1), 142. Schwartz, B. L., & Metcalfe, J. (1994). Methodological Problems and Pitfalls in the Study of Human Metacognition. In J. Metcalfe & A. P. Shimamura (Eds.), Metacognition (pp. 93-113): The Mitpress [MIT CogNet]. Teasdale, J. D., Moore, R. G., Hayhurst, H., Pope, M., William, S., & Siegal, Z. V. (2002). Metacognitive Awareness and Prevention of Relapse in Depression: Empirical Evidence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 70(2), 275-287.
What is Metacognition 20 Wells, A. (2002). GAD, Metacognition, and Mindfulness: An Information Processing Analysis. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 9(1), 95. Wiley, J., Griffin, T. D., & Thiede, K. W. (2005). Putting the Comprehension in Metacomprehension. The Journal of General Psychology, 132(4), 408. Washburn, D. A., Smith, J. D., & Taglialatela, L. A. (2005). Individual Differences in Metacognitive Responsiveness: Cognitive and Personality Correlates. The Journal of General Psychology, 132(4), 446. Zimmerman, B. J. (1989). A Social Cognitive View of Self-Regulated Academic Learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81(3), 329-339.
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