Vol 6, Issue 4, November 2019

From Comparative Studies to Interdisciplinary Research on Metacognition


Proust, J. (2019). From comparative studies to interdisciplinary research on metacognition. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 6(4), 309-328. https://doi.org/10.26451/abc.


The goal of this article is to critically examine the notion of metacognition, based on comparative, developmental and neuroscientific publications. A number of researchers define "metacognition" as “knowing what one knows." Others define it more broadly as a set of abilities allowing an individual to control and monitor his/her own cognitive activity" – where "cognitive activity" is taken to mean "activity with an informational goal." Developmental, neuroscientific and comparative studies, however, show that cognitive agents can pursue informational goals and reliably monitor them without representing their own mental states as mental states: they enjoy "procedural" metacognition. Various objections raised in the literature against this hypothesis are discussed, such as the kind of reinforcement at work in metacognition, and the role of metacognitive awareness in human and nonhuman decision-making. Finally, Peter Carruthers' first-order account of the comparative and developmental evidence of metacognition in terms of "basic questioning" is compared with the account in terms of procedural metacognition.


Metacognitive development, Fluency, Procedural metacognition, Reinforcement learning, Non-human self-awareness, Evolution of consciousness