Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Easy Comes, Easy Goes? the Link between Learning and Remembering and Its Exploitation in Metacognition

Academic journal article Memory & Cognition

Easy Comes, Easy Goes? the Link between Learning and Remembering and Its Exploitation in Metacognition

Article excerpt

The cue-utilization view in metacognition assumes that judgments of learning (JOLs) are based on inferences from mnemonic cues deriving from the online processing of items during learning. This view calls for a specification of the underlying heuristics, their validity in predicting memory performance, and the extent to which they are utilized. This study examines one such heuristic: easily learned, easily remembered (ELER). We first show that ease of learning, as indexed by self-paced study time and by the number of trials to acquisition, is indeed a valid cue for recall success. We then demonstrate that this correlation between learning and remembering underlies metacognitive predictions about the future recallability of different items. The results are discussed in terms of the idea that metacognitive judgments incorporate knowledge about the internal ecology of cognitive processes, much as the perception of the external world embodies knowledge about the ecological structure of the environment.

A friend said to me: Italian is a very easy language. Whenever I am in Italy, it takes me 2 to 3 days to be able to express myself in Italian. However, after I leave Italy, no more than a couple of days later, I forget everything that I have learned.

This is, perhaps, an example of the adage "easy come, easy go": Information that is acquired faster is forgotten faster. In this article, we challenge this claim, showing instead that items that are easily learned are better remembered. We then examine the hypothesis that this correlation between learning and remembering is embodied in the heuristics that people use in making metacognitive judgments during learning about the future recallability of different items.

How do people monitor their knowledge during learning and remembering? One view that has been gaining impetus in recent years is the cue-utilization view, according to which metacognitive judgments are inferential in nature: They are based on a variety of heuristics and cues that have some degree of validity in predicting objective memory performance (e.g., Benjamin & Bjork, 1996; see Koriat, 1997, 2007; Schwarte, 1994). It has been assumed that reliance on such cues and heuristics is largely automatic and unconscious, giving rise to sheer subjective feelings of knowing.

The cue-utilization view of metacognition invites an analysis similar to that proposed by Brunswik (1956) for perception. Brunswik proposed that perception is centered on distal objects in the outside world but that these cannot be perceived directly and must be inferred from proximal cues that impinge on the senses. For example, various proximal cues, such as relative size, are diagnostic of the distance of an object, and are used by the perceptual system to infer that distance. The inference occurs unconsciously, giving rise to a sheer perceptual experience. Therefore, in order to understand the factors that contribute to veridical perception, it is necessary to examine the correlation between proximal cues and distal variables (cue validity) and the extent to which these cues are used by the perceiver (cue utilization).

We propose that, just as the perception of the environment embodies knowledge about the ecological structure of the external world, the heuristics that underlie metacognitive judgments incorporate knowledge about the principles that govern cognition. Therefore, an essential step in the analysis of metacognitive judgments is the description of the "internal ecology" of human cognition; in particular, the correlations between proximal mnemonic cues that derive from learning and remembering operations, on the one hand, and actual memory, on the other. Once that correlational structure has been delineated, we can attempt to uncover the reasons for some of these correlations, examine the extent to which metacognitive judgments take advantage of these correlations, and find out how such cue utilization contributes to the accuracy and inaccuracy of metacognitive judgments. …

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