Metacognition is "cognition about cognition", "thinking about thinking", "knowing about knowing", becoming "aware of one's awareness" and higher-order thinking skills. The term comes from the root word meta, meaning "beyond", or "on top of". Metacognition can take many forms; it includes knowledge about when and how to use particular strategies for learning or problem-solving. There are generally two components of metacognition: (1) knowledge about cognition and (2) regulation of cognition.
Metamemory, defined as knowing about memory and mnemonic strategies, is an especially important form of metacognition. Academic research on metacognitive processing across cultures is in the early stages, but there are indications that further work may provide better outcomes in cross-cultural learning between teachers and students.
This higher-level cognition was given the label metacognition by American developmental psychologist John H. Flavell (1976).
The term metacognition literally means 'above cognition', and is used to indicate cognition about cognition, or more informally, thinking about thinking. Flavell defined metacognition as knowledge about cognition and control of cognition. For example, a person is engaging in metacognition if they notice that they are having more trouble learning A than B, or if it strikes them that they should double-check C before accepting it as fact. J. H. Flavell (1976, p. 232). Andreas Demetriou's theory (one of the neo-Piagetian theories of cognitive development) used the term hypercognition to refer to self-monitoring, self-representation, and self-regulation processes, which are regarded as integral components of the human mind. Moreover, with his colleagues, he showed that these processes participate in general intelligence, together with processing efficiency and reasoning, which have traditionally been considered to compose fluid intelligence.
Metacognition also involves thinking about one's own thinking process such as study skills, memory capabilities, and the ability to monitor learning. This concept needs to be explicitly taught along with content instruction. Metacognitive knowledge is about one's own cognitive processes and the understanding of how to regulate those processes to maximize learning.
Some types of metacognitive knowledge would include:
- Content knowledge (declarative knowledge) which is understanding one's own capabilities, such as a student evaluating their own knowledge of a subject in a class. It is notable that not all metacognition is accurate. Studies have shown that students often mistake lack of effort with understanding in evaluating themselves and their overall knowledge of a concept. Also, greater confidence in having performed well is associated with less accurate metacognitive judgment of the performance.
- Task knowledge (procedural knowledge), which is how one perceives the difficulty of a task which is the content, length, and the type of assignment. The study mentioned in Content knowledge also deals with a person's ability to evaluate the difficulty of a task related to their overall performance on the task. Again, the accuracy of this knowledge was skewed as students who thought their way was better/easier also seemed to perform worse on evaluations, while students who were rigorously and continually evaluated reported to not be as confident but still did better on initial evaluations.
- Strategic knowledge (conditional knowledge) which is one's own capability for using strategies to learn information. Young children are not particularly good at this; it is not until students are in upper elementary school that they begin to develop an understanding of effective strategies.
Metacognition is a general term encompassing the study of memory-monitoring and self-regulation, meta-reasoning, consciousness/awareness and autonoetic consciousness/self-awareness. In practice these capacities are used to regulate one's own cognition, to maximize one's potential to think, learn and to the evaluation of proper ethical/moral rules. It can also lead to a reduction in response time for a given situation as a result of heightened awareness, and potentially reduce the time to complete problems or tasks.
In the domain of experimental psychology, an influential distinction in metacognition (proposed by T. O. Nelson & L. Narens) is between Monitoring—making judgments about the strength of one's memories—and Control—using those judgments to guide behavior (in particular, to guide study choices). Dunlosky, Serra, and Baker (2007) covered this distinction in a review of metamemory research that focused on how findings from this domain can be applied to other areas of applied research.
In the domain of cognitive neuroscience, metacognitive monitoring and control has been viewed as a function of the prefrontal cortex, which receives (monitors) sensory signals from other cortical regions and implements control using feedback loops(see chapters by Schwartz & Bacon and Shimamura, in Dunlosky & Bjork, 2008).
- Metacognitive knowledge (also called metacognitive awareness) is what individuals know about themselves and others as cognitive processors.
- Metacognitive regulation is the regulation of cognition and learning experiences through a set of activities that help people control their learning.
- Metacognitive experiences are those experiences that have something to do with the current, on-going cognitive endeavor.
Metacognition refers to a level of thinking that involves active control over the process of thinking that is used in learning situations. Planning the way to approach a learning task, monitoring comprehension, and evaluating the progress towards the completion of a task: these are skills that are metacognitive in their nature.
- Declarative knowledge: refers to knowledge about oneself as a learner and about what factors can influence one's performance. Declarative knowledge can also be referred to as "world knowledge".
- Procedural knowledge: refers to knowledge about doing things. This type of knowledge is displayed as heuristics and strategies. A high degree of procedural knowledge can allow individuals to perform tasks more automatically. This is achieved through a large variety of strategies that can be accessed more efficiently.
- Conditional knowledge: refers to knowing when and why to use declarative and procedural knowledge. It allows students to allocate their resources when using strategies. This in turn allows the strategies to become more effective.
- Planning: refers to the appropriate selection of strategies and the correct allocation of resources that affect task performance.
- Monitoring: refers to one's awareness of comprehension and task performance
- Evaluating: refers to appraising the final product of a task and the efficiency at which the task was performed. This can include re-evaluating strategies that were used.
Similarly, maintaining motivation to see a task to completion is also a metacognitive skill. The ability to become aware of distracting stimuli – both internal and external – and sustain effort over time also involves metacognitive or executive functions. The theory that metacognition has a critical role to play in successful learning means it is important that it be demonstrated by both students and teachers.
Students who demonstrate a wide range of metacognitive skills perform better on exams and complete work more efficiently. They are self-regulated learners who utilize the "right tool for the job" and modify learning strategies and skills based on their awareness of effectiveness. Individuals with a high level of metacognitive knowledge and skill identify blocks to learning as early as possible and change "tools" or strategies to ensure goal attainment. Swanson (1990) found that metacognitive knowledge can compensate for IQ and lack of prior knowledge when comparing fifth and sixth grade students' problem solving. Students with a high-metacognition were reported to have used fewer strategies, but solved problems more effectively than low-metacognition students, regardless of IQ or prior knowledge. In one study examining students who send text messages during college lectures, it was suggested that students with higher metacognitive abilities were less likely than other students to have their learning affected by using a mobile phone in class.
The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.
Metacognologists are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, the nature of the task at hand, and available "tools" or skills. A broader repertoire of "tools" also assists in goal attainment. When "tools" are general, generic, and context independent, they are more likely to be useful in different types of learning situations.
Another distinction in metacognition is executive management and strategic knowledge. Executive management processes involve planning, monitoring, evaluating and revising one's own thinking processes and products. Strategic knowledge involves knowing what (factual or declarative knowledge), knowing when and why (conditional or contextual knowledge) and knowing how (procedural or methodological knowledge). Both executive management and strategic knowledge metacognition are needed to self-regulate one's own thinking and learning.
Finally, there is no distinction between domain-general and domain-specific metacognitive skills. This means that metacognitive skills are domain-general in nature and there are no specific skills for certain subject areas. The metacognitive skills that are used to review an essay are the same as those that are used to verify an answer to a math question.
Although metacognition has thus far been discussed in relation to the self, recent research in the field has suggested that this view is overly restrictive. Instead, it is argued that metacognition research should also include beliefs about others' mental processes, the influence of culture on those beliefs, and on beliefs about ourselves. This "expansionist view" proposes that it is impossible to fully understand metacognition without considering the situational norms and cultural expectations that influence those same conceptions. This combination of social psychology and metacognition is referred to as social metacognition.
Social metacognition can include ideas and perceptions that relate to social cognition. Additionally, social metacognition can include judging the cognition of others, such as judging the perceptions and emotional states of others. This is in part because the process of judging others is similar to judging the self. However, individuals have less information about the people they are judging; therefore, judging others tends to be more inaccurate. Having similar cognitions can buffer against this inaccuracy and can be helpful for teams or organizations, as well as interpersonal relationships.
Social Metacognition and the Self Concept
An example of the interaction between social metacognition and self-concept can be found in examining implicit theories about the self. Implicit theories can cover a wide range of constructs about how the self operates, but two are especially relevant here; entity theory and incrementalist theory. Entity theory proposes that an individual's self-attributes and abilities are fixed and stable, while incrementalist theory proposes that these same constructs can be changed through effort and experience. Entity theorists are susceptible to learned helplessness because they may feel that circumstances are outside their control (i.e. there's nothing that could have been done to make things better), thus they may give up easily. Incremental theorists react differently when faced with failure: they desire to master challenges, and therefore adopt a mastery-oriented pattern. They immediately began to consider various ways that they could approach the task differently, and they increase their efforts. Cultural beliefs can act on this as well. For example, a person who has accepted a cultural belief that memory loss is an unavoidable consequence of old age may avoid cognitively demanding tasks as they age, thus accelerating cognitive decline. Similarly, a female who is aware of the stereotype that purports that females are not good at mathematics may perform worse on tests of mathematical ability or avoid mathematics altogether. These examples demonstrate that the metacognitive beliefs people hold about the self - which may be socially or culturally transmitted - can have important effects on persistence, performance, and motivation.
Attitudes as a Function of Social Metacognition
Some metacognitive characteristics of attitudes include importance, certainty, and perceived knowledge, and they influence behavior in different ways. Attitude importance is the strongest predictor of behavior and can predict information seeking behaviors in individuals. Attitude importance is also more likely to influence behavior than certainty of the attitude. When considering a social behavior like voting a person may hold high importance but low certainty. This means that they will likely vote, even if they are unsure who to vote for. Meanwhile, a person who is very certain of who they want to vote for, may not actually vote if it is of low importance to them. This also applies to interpersonal relationships. A person might hold a lot of favorable knowledge about their family, but they may not maintain close relations with their family if it is of low importance.
Metacognitive characteristics of attitudes may be key to understanding how attitudes change. Research shows that the frequency of positive or negative thoughts is the biggest factor in attitude change. A person may believe that climate change is occurring but have negative thoughts toward it such as "If I accept the responsibilities of climate change, I must change my lifestyle". These individuals would not likely change their behavior compared to someone that thinks positively about the same issue such as "By using less electricity, I will be helping the planet".
Another way to increase the likelihood of behavior change is by influencing the source of the attitude. An individual's personal thoughts and ideas have a much greater impact on the attitude compared to ideas of others. Therefore, when people view lifestyle changes as coming from themselves, the effects are more powerful than if the changes were coming from a friend or family member. These thoughts can be re-framed in a way that emphasizes personal importance, such as "I want to stop smoking because it is important to me" rather than "quitting smoking is important to my family". More research needs to be conducted on culture differences and importance of group ideology, which may alter these results.
Social Metacognition and Stereotypes
People have secondary cognitions about the appropriateness, justifiability, and social judgability of their own stereotypic beliefs. People know that it is typically unacceptable to make stereotypical judgments and make conscious efforts not to do so. Subtle social cues can influence these conscious efforts. For example, when given a false sense of confidence about their ability to judge others, people will return to relying on social stereotypes. Cultural backgrounds influence social metacognitive assumptions, including stereotypes. For example, cultures without the stereotype that memory declines with old age display no age differences in memory performance.
When it comes to making judgments about other people, implicit theories about the stability versus malleability of human characteristics predict differences in social stereotyping as well. Holding an entity theory of traits increases the tendency for people to see similarity among group members and utilize stereotyped judgments. For example, compared to those holding incremental beliefs, people who hold entity beliefs of traits use more stereotypical trait judgments of ethnic and occupational groups as well as form more extreme trait judgments of new groups. When an individual's assumptions about a group combine with their implicit theories, more stereotypical judgments may be formed. Stereotypes that one believes others hold about them are called metastereotypes.
Relation to sapience
Metacognologists believe that the ability to consciously think about thinking is unique to sapient species and indeed is one of the definitions of sapience or wisdom. There is evidence that rhesus monkeys, apes, and dolphins can make accurate judgments about the strengths of their memories of fact and monitor their own uncertainty, while attempts to demonstrate metacognition in birds have been inconclusive. A 2007 study has provided some evidence for metacognition in rats, but further analysis suggested that they may have been following simple operant conditioning principles, or a behavioral economic model.
Metacognitive-like processes are especially ubiquitous when it comes to the discussion of self-regulated learning. Being engaged in metacognition is a salient feature of good self-regulated learners. Reinforcing collective discussion of metacognition is a salient feature of self-critical and self-regulating social groups. The activities of strategy selection and application include those concerned with an ongoing attempt to plan, check, monitor, select, revise, evaluate, etc.
Metacognition is 'stable' in that learners' initial decisions derive from the pertinent facts about their cognition through years of learning experience. Simultaneously, it is also 'situated' in the sense that it depends on learners' familiarity with the task, motivation, emotion, and so forth. Individuals need to regulate their thoughts about the strategy they are using and adjust it based on the situation to which the strategy is being applied. At a professional level, this has led to emphasis on the development of reflective practice, particularly in the education and health-care professions.
Recently, the notion has been applied to the study of second language learners in the field of TESOL and applied linguistics in general (e.g., Wenden, 1987; Zhang, 2001, 2010). This new development has been much related to Flavell (1979), where the notion of metacognition is elaborated within a tripartite theoretical framework. Learner metacognition is defined and investigated by examining their person knowledge, task knowledge and strategy knowledge.
Wenden (1991) has proposed and used this framework and Zhang (2001) has adopted this approach and investigated second language learners' metacognition or metacognitive knowledge. In addition to exploring the relationships between learner metacognition and performance, researchers are also interested in the effects of metacognitively-oriented strategic instruction on reading comprehension (e.g., Garner, 1994, in first language contexts, and Chamot, 2005; Zhang, 2010). The efforts are aimed at developing learner autonomy, interdependence and self-regulation.
Metacognition helps people to perform many cognitive tasks more effectively. Strategies for promoting metacognition include self-questioning (e.g. "What do I already know about this topic? How have I solved problems like this before?"), thinking aloud while performing a task, and making graphic representations (e.g. concept maps, flow charts, semantic webs) of one's thoughts and knowledge. Carr, 2002, argues that the physical act of writing plays a large part in the development of metacognitive skills.
Strategy Evaluation matrices (SEM) can help to improve the knowledge of cognition component of metacognition. The SEM works by identifying the declarative (Column 1), procedural (Column 2) and conditional (Column 3 and 4) knowledge about specific strategies. The SEM can help individuals identify the strength and weaknesses about certain strategies as well as introduce them to new strategies that they can add to their repertoire.
A regulation checklist (RC) is a useful strategy for improving the regulation of cognition aspect of one's metacognition. RCs help individuals to implement a sequence of thoughts that allow them to go over their own metacognition. King (1991) found that fifth-grade students who used a regulation checklist outperformed control students when looking at a variety of questions including written problem solving, asking strategic questions, and elaborating information.
Walker and Walker have developed a model of metacognition in school learning termed Steering Cognition, which describes the capacity of the mind to exert conscious control over its reasoning and processing strategies in relation to the external learning task. Studies have shown that pupils with an ability to exert metacognitive regulation over their attentional and reasoning strategies used when engaged in maths, and then shift those strategies when engaged in science or then English literature learning, associate with higher academic outcomes at secondary school.
"Metastrategic knowledge" (MSK) is a sub-component of metacognition that is defined as general knowledge about higher order thinking strategies. MSK had been defined as "general knowledge about the cognitive procedures that are being manipulated". The knowledge involved in MSK consists of "making generalizations and drawing rules regarding a thinking strategy" and of "naming" the thinking strategy.
The important conscious act of a metastrategic strategy is the "conscious" awareness that one is performing a form of higher order thinking. MSK is an awareness of the type of thinking strategies being used in specific instances and it consists of the following abilities: making generalizations and drawing rules regarding a thinking strategy, naming the thinking strategy, explaining when, why and how such a thinking strategy should be used, when it should not be used, what are the disadvantages of not using appropriate strategies, and what task characteristics call for the use of the strategy.
MSK deals with the broader picture of the conceptual problem. It creates rules to describe and understand the physical world around the people who utilize these processes called higher-order thinking. This is the capability of the individual to take apart complex problems in order to understand the components in problem. These are the building blocks to understanding the "big picture" (of the main problem) through reflection and problem solving.
Both social and cognitive dimensions of sporting expertise can be adequately explained from a metacognitive perspective according to recent research. The potential of metacognitive inferences and domain-general skills including psychological skills training are integral to the genesis of expert performance. Moreover, the contribution of both mental imagery (e.g., mental practice) and attentional strategies (e.g., routines) to our understanding of expertise and metacognition is noteworthy. The potential of metacognition to illuminate our understanding of action was first highlighted by Aidan Moran who discussed the role of meta-attention in 1996. A recent research initiative, a research seminar series called META funded by the BPS, is exploring the role of the related constructs of meta-motivation, meta-emotion, and thinking and action (metacognition).
Sparks of interest
In the context of mental health, metacognition can be loosely defined as the process that "reinforces one's subjective sense of being a self and allows for becoming aware that some of one's thoughts and feelings are symptoms of an illness". The interest in metacognition emerged from a concern for an individual's ability to understand their own mental status compared to others as well as the ability to cope with the source of their distress. These insights into an individual's mental health status can have a profound effect on the over-all prognosis and recovery. Metacognition brings many unique insights into the normal daily functioning of a human being. It also demonstrates that a lack of these insights compromises 'normal' functioning. This leads to less healthy functioning. In the autism spectrum, there is a profound deficit in Theory of Mind. In people who identify as alcoholics, there is a belief that the need to control cognition is an independent predictor of alcohol use over anxiety. Alcohol may be used as a coping strategy for controlling unwanted thoughts and emotions formed by negative perceptions. This is sometimes referred to as self medication.
Wells' and Matthews' theory proposes that when faced with an undesired choice, an individual can operate in two distinct modes: "object" and "metacognitive". Object mode interprets perceived stimuli as truth, where metacognitive mode understands thoughts as cues that have to be weighted and evaluated. They are not as easily trusted. There are targeted interventions unique of each patient, that gives rise to the belief that assistance in increasing metacognition in people diagnosed with schizophrenia is possible through tailored psychotherapy. With a customized therapy in place clients then have the potential to develop greater ability to engage in complex self-reflection. This can ultimately be pivotal in the patient's recovery process. In the obsessive–compulsive spectrum, cognitive formulations have greater attention to intrusive thoughts related to the disorder. "Cognitive self-consciousness" are the tendencies to focus attention on thought. Patients with OCD exemplify varying degrees of these "intrusive thoughts". Patients also suffering from generalized anxiety disorder also show negative thought process in their cognition.
Cognitive-attentional syndrome (CAS) characterizes a metacognitive model of emotion disorder (CAS is consistent with the attention strategy of excessively focusing on the source of a threat). This ultimately develops through the client's own beliefs. Metacognitive therapy attempts to correct this change in the CAS. One of the techniques in this model is called attention training (ATT). It was designed to diminish the worry and anxiety by a sense of control and cognitive awareness. ATT also trains clients to detect threats and test how controllable reality appears to be.
Works of art as metacognitive artifacts
The concept of metacognition has also been applied to reader-response criticism. Narrative works of art, including novels, movies and musical compositions, can be characterized as metacognitive artifacts which are designed by the artist to anticipate and regulate the beliefs and cognitive processes of the recipient, for instance, how and in which order events and their causes and identities are revealed to the reader of a detective story. As Menakhem Perry has pointed out, mere order has profound effects on the aesthetical meaning of a text. Narrative works of art contain a representation of their own ideal reception process. They are something of a tool with which the creators of the work wish to attain certain aesthetical and even moral effects.
There is an intimate, dynamic interplay between mind wandering and metacognition. Metacognition serves to correct the wandering mind, suppressing spontaneous thoughts and bringing attention back to more "worthwhile" tasks.
The concept of metacognition has also been applied to collective teams and organizations in general, termed organizational metacognition.
- Educational psychology – Branch of psychology concerned with the scientific study of human learning
- Educational technology – Use of technology in education to improve learning and teaching
- Epistemology – A branch of philosophy concerned with the nature and scope of knowledge
- Goal orientation
- Introspection – Examining one's own thoughts and feelings
- Learning styles – Theories that aim to account for differences in individuals' learning
- Münchhausen trilemma – A thought experiment used to demonstrate the impossibility of proving any truth
- Mirror test – self-awareness test for animals that attempts to determine if they recognize themselves in a mirror
- Phenomenology (philosophy)
- Phenomenology (psychology)
- Psychological effects of Internet use
- Second-order cybernetics – The recursive application of cybernetics to itself
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- The International Association for Metacognition
- Metacognition in Learning Concepts
- Metacognition: An Overview by Jennifer A. Livingston (1997) at Buffalo.edu
- Metacognitive knowledge
- Metacognition in Computation overview – links
- Developing Metacognition – ERIC Digest
- Workshops on Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning in Educational Technology
- Meditation and Metacognition
- An Interdisciplinary perspective on expertise under the META framework which includes meta-motivation, meta-emotion and thinking and action (metacognition).
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- The Global Metacognition Institute