Vol 6, Issue 4, November 2019

The Cognitive Architecture of Uncertainty


Smith, J. D., Jackson, B. N., & Church, B. A. (2019). The cognitive architecture of uncertainty. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 6(4), 236-246. https://doi.org/10.26451/abc.


The authors consider theory in the animal-metacognition literature. Theoretical interpretation was long dominated by associative interpretations, a conservative approach well illustrated in the 2009 special issue of animal metacognition in Comparative Cognition and Behavioral Reviews. We suggest, though, that this approach risks a self-limiting understanding of animal minds, and an imprecise understanding of the cognitive requirements inherent in metacognition tasks. In fact, some tasks self-entail the need for higher-level decision-making processes, processes that—in humans—we would call explicit, declarative, and conscious. These points are illustrated using the inaugural study on dolphin metacognition. We urge researchers to turn more toward illuminating the cognitive architecture of capacities like metacognition, including illuminating the depth, and structure, the learning/memory systems, the cognitive levels, and the declarative awareness possibly present in animals’ minds. The empirical development of this literature demonstrates that researchers are now prepared to do so. This study can produce strong synergies across the allied fields of biopsychology, comparative and cognitive psychology, and neuroscience.


Metacognition, Uncertainty monitoring, Comparative psychology, Cognitive psychology, Cognitive architecture