What Is Metacognition?
Metacognition is the awareness of one’s thought processes, feelings and emotions. In simple terms, it means to think about thinking, to be aware of one’s thoughts, to evaluate their nature and to regulate them. For example, when a person analyses their thoughts about sexuality, it can be called metacognition.
According to John Flavell who introduced metacognition, Metacognition is a higher-order thinking process which involves the ability to think, rationalize, assess and evaluate. This has been recently studied as a basis for understanding and treating mental illnesses.
This concept is extensively used in the field of educational psychology as it places high emphasis on learning. This process is a multifaceted concept and there are three different kinds of metacognition.
- Metacognitive Knowledge
- Metacognitive Experiences
- Metacognitive Control Strategies
1. Metacognitive Knowledge:
This refers to the beliefs about one’s cognition. It is what individuals know about themselves and their internal thought processes. This can be explicit and implicit.
Explicit metacognitive knowledge occurs at a conscious level, and it can be verbally expressed. Implicit metacognitive knowledge is not as apparent, but they work indirectly in many cognitive processes such as memory, heuristics (mental shortcuts to reach immediate conclusions) and biases in making judgments.
Flavell went on to further divide metacognitive knowledge into three different types.
- Person Variables: This involves the individual knowledge and beliefs about oneself as a learner and of others. For example, one may become aware of his social awkwardness in comparison to his friend who is considered more of a crowd pleaser.
- Task Variables: This comprises all the knowledge that a person possesses about a proposed task. This knowledge acts as a form of guidance in managing the task and in predicting the success of the task. For example, the awareness about how well a person drives a car. This knowledge would help in deciding whether the person can take a long or short journey individually.
- Strategy Variables: The strategy aspect of metacognitive knowledge involves identifying goals and sub-goals and ascertaining strategies and methods to achieve those set goals. For example, to gain knowledge about becoming a dermatologist and finding out ways to pursue the desired target.
2. Metacognitive Experiences:
Metacognitive experiences are interpretations of cognitive experiences. It is to give a label to the internal psychological processes.
For example, when a person experiences the sensation of dullness, irritability and lack of motivation, they conclude and label their momentary feeling as sadness.
3. Metacognitive Control Strategies:
These are strategies people employ to control their cognitive systems. These strategies can be used to suppress or intensify thinking strategies. There are five thought control strategies such as reappraisal, punishment, social control, worry and distraction. Children are usually poor at this. However, as they grow, they learn to strategize and manage cognitions.
There are various skills required for metacognitive regulation to occur. It involves skills such as identifying one’s learning styles, planning tasks, evaluating decisions and ideas, predicting the success rate of tasks, recognizing personal mistakes and executing methods to eradicate those mistakes, evaluating progress etc.
Categories Of Metacognition
To wholly understand its broad functioning, Michael E Martinez identified three important categories of metacognition and they are:
1. Metamemory And Meta Comprehension:
Metamemory refers to the awareness about one’s knowledge base and memory. For example, to be able to recognize that one’s memory is poor in terms of mathematical concepts is metamemory.
Meta comprehension is the awareness or realization of one’s capacity to comprehend. A person may read a passage and not realize that they don’t understand because they read just the words and sentences and not the message of the passage.
One of the most complex processes that require high cognitive abilities is problem-solving. Although it may sound like rocket science, we all solve problems on a day-to-day basis.
Managing time, handling deadlines, finding something to wear, and filling our hungry stomachs are all problems we solve like a piece of cake. This seemingly complex process demands metacognition as we are analyzing our thoughts and evaluating our choices consistently to reach an ideal solution.
3. Critical Thinking:
Critical thinking is much like problem-solving even though they seem distinct. To think critically is to evaluate decisions for their quality, whether the decisions make sense, if it is logical, whether they are placed in the right sequence etc.
Why Is Metacognition An Important Skill To Cultivate?
The concept of metacognition is an essential skill, especially in the field of education and learning. In a study conducted in Sweden, it was concluded that metacognition is a key component in reading instruction that supports the development of comprehension skills.
Even Socrates urged his students to develop the skill of metacognition to reveal the gap in understanding between the students and themselves. He believed that this self-insight was the way to wisdom.
This phenomenon is given such importance because it involves self-evaluation which ultimately facilitates transformation and personal growth.
The Development Of Metacognition Since Childhood
Generally, young children cannot think and analyze their own thoughts. Their ability to do so is much lesser compared to older children and adults.
However, it gradually develops with time. Children at an age as early as 18 months can recognize if an adult is imitating them and will also test them to see if they will continue doing so.
Children at the age of four to five years can also identify whether a person is lying or making a mistake. This gives us an insight into the ability of children in recognizing their cognitions and that of others.
As they grow older, they learn and acquire better strategies to enhance their cognitive efficiency, problem-solving skills etc. they are also able to set goals and reach them, evaluate their progress and the competency of the methods and techniques they apply.
Their comprehension skills and feedback also become enhanced. They also become more capable of self-regulation on their cognition and other aspects of behaviors.
With the growing amount of studies conducted on the topic of metacognition, many researchers claim that it is impossible to study metacognition in the absence of situational norms and cultural expectations as they can shape an individual and this combination of social psychology and metacognition is called social metacognition.
Social metacognition involves the societal implications of metacognition. This talks about the cognitive processes that humans use during social interactions. This came to prominence with the rise of cognitive psychology and now is a part of mainstream social psychology.
When metacognition takes place in a group setting, it implies the monitoring and controlling of one another’s knowledge and emotions, abilities etc.
Social-Metacognition And Self-Concept
“What do I think about who I am?” simply explains the relationship between social metacognition and self-concept. There is an inverse relationship between Metacognition and self-concept as it holds an influence on each other.
Some theories are attempting to explain social concepts such as entity theory and incrementalism theory. Entity theory states that a person’s self-attributes are fixed and stable.
On the other hand, incrementality believes that an individual’s attributes can be changed through effort and experience. Whatever attitude people hold for themselves, their metacognitive thoughts would resonate with those beliefs.
Social-Metacognition And Culture
Culture plays a big role in influencing the metacognition of a person. Sometimes culture stands as the root cause behind people using stereotypes to make judgments about the world although people have a deep-rooted knowledge that judgments about people shouldn’t be generalized.
Social-Metacognition And Beliefs & Moral Values
In a study, it was concluded that the differences in social inferences have an impact on people when making moral judgments. In simpler words, people use the observations they make from their environment when making moral judgments.
For example, Lara was brought up in a household where it was not okay to call people names. But when she started university, she was around people who would constantly call each other by mean names. This observation of the difference in her environment makes her think about her own moral judgments and whether this behavior would fit in with her moral values and beliefs.
Metacognition And Learning
The concept of metacognition is primarily studied in the context of learning and teaching. Since learning is a complex process involving a plethora of complex cognitive skills such as comprehension, evaluation, assessment, reflection etc. it is naturally interwoven with metacognition. Learning is not possible without the presence of metacognition.
The skill of metacognition can be imparted to students to enhance their learning:
- By identifying their cognitive errors in goal setting, encoding information, choosing the right skills for learning etc.
- By understanding the individual needs of the students and providing customized guidance and help.
- By encouraging strategic learning techniques such as learning in groups, generating questions about the content, writing down summaries of the topics covered etc.
- By promoting the students to ask metacognitive questions such as “what do I understand from this?”, “how can I solve this problem?” “With what did I have difficulty?” etc.
- By extending guidance and scaffolding to ensure in-depth information acquisition by the students.
- By focusing on the essential practical skills required for students and working on them.