The Comparative Study of Metacognition: Sharper Paradigms, Safer Inferences

By Smith, J. David; Beran, Michael J. et al. | Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, August 2008 | Go to article overview

The Comparative Study of Metacognition: Sharper Paradigms, Safer Inferences


Smith, J. David, Beran, Michael J., Couchman, Justin J., Coutinho, Mariana V. C., Psychonomic Bulletin & Review


Results that point to animals' metacognitive capacity bear a heavy burden, given the potential for competing behavioral descriptions. In this article, formal models are used to evaluate the force of these descriptions. One example is that many existing studies have directly rewarded so-called uncertainty responses. Modeling confirms that this practice is an interpretative danger because it supports associative processes and encourages simpler interpretations. Another example is that existing studies raise the concern that animals avoid difficult stimuli not because of uncertainty monitored, but because of aversion given error-causing or reinforcement-lean stimuli. Modeling also justifies this concern and shows that this problem is not addressed by the common practice of comparing performance on chosen and forced trials. The models and related discussion have utility for metacognition researchers and theorists broadly, because they specify the experimental operations that will best indicate a metacognitive capacity in humans or animals by eliminating alternative behavioral accounts.

Humans feel uncertain when they do not know or remember. They often respond appropriately to these feelings. These responses are the empirical phenomena that ground the literature on metacognition (Flavell, 1979;Koriat, 1993; Nelson, 1992; Schwarte, 1994). The idea in this literature is that a cognitive executive in the mind monitors perception and memory, judging its progress and prospects. This happens, for example, when we realize the difficulty of a passage in a scientific article and make deliberate efforts to grasp its meaning. These monitoring functions are assessed in the laboratory by collecting metacognitive judgments (e.g., feelings of knowing or confidence ratings).

Researchers take humans' metacognitive behavior to indicate important aspects of mind. They link metacognitive states to self-awareness (because uncertainty and doubt are so personal and subjective; Gallup, 1982) and to declarative consciousness (because humans so easily introspect and communicate these states; Koriat, 2007; Nelson, 1996). Metacognition is one of humans' sophisticated cognitive capacities, and it could be uniquely human (Metcalfe & Kober, 2005). This possibility makes it important to ask whether nonhuman animals (hereafter, animals) have a similar capacity.

Accordingly, Smith and his colleagues inaugurated a new area of comparative inquiry by asking whether animals have a capacity for cognitive monitoring (Shields, Smith, & Washburn, 1997; Smith et al., 1995; Smith, Shields, Allendoerfer, & Washburn, 1998; Smith, Shields, Schull, & Washburn, 1997). Active research continues in this area (Beran, Smith, Redford, & Washburn, 2006; Call & Carpenter, 2001 ; Foote & Crystal, 2007; Hampton, 2001; Inman & Shettleworth, 1999; Kornell, Son, & Terrace, 2007; Washburn, Smith, & Shields, 2006; see reviews in Smith, in press; Smith, Shields, & Washburn, 2003; Smith & Washburn, 2005). In some of these studies, researchers presented a mix of easy and difficult trials. They gave animals (a dolphin, monkeys, pigeons, and rats) an additional response-beyond the primary discrimination responses-that let them decline to complete any trials they chose. Animals who accurately monitor cognition should recognize difficult trials as error risking and decline those trials selectively. Some animals do so and, in cognitive-monitoring tasks, produce data patterns like those of humans. This additional response has come to be called the uncertainty response, and it is presently interpreted as showing some species' capacity for uncertainty monitoring and metacognition.

If this interpretation is correct, these experiments tap theoretically important cognitive capacities in animals. They raise intriguing issues about animal mind, awareness, and consciousness, although they do not resolve them. They could help cognitive scientists reflect on the phylogenetic roots of human metacognition. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Comparative Study of Metacognition: Sharper Paradigms, Safer Inferences
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.