Metacognition: Components And Characteristics

Have you ever thought about how you think, or had certain thoughts about your thoughts? This ability to think about yourself is called metacognition. Read on to find out more about this fascinating aspect of the human mind. 
Metacognition: Components and characteristics

Although the term, metacognition, is complex, one can summarize it as knowledge about knowledge itself. In other words, it is the ability to know and regulate how you think and what conscious control of cognitive processes, such as memory, attention, and comprehension, entails.

The study of metacognition began with the epistemologist and cognitive psychologist, J. Flavel, and the English anthropologist and psychologist, Gregory Bateson. The latter focused his research on metacognition in animals.

Metacognition is thinking at a higher level where you are the object in question. This is where the prefix “meta” comes from. Metacognition allows you to evaluate executive processes and make changes to improve yourself.

Let’s take a look at a few examples that may make it easier to understand. Let’s say you read something and suddenly stop to ask yourself if you have understood what you have read. You realize you do not have it, so you read it again.

It’s metacognition. Another example is when you try to solve a problem and realize that the mental strategy you are using is not working, so you switch to another.

The two sides of metacognition

One important thing to understand about metacognition is that it is a multi-faceted concept. One can discuss metacognition from different perspectives. One way of understanding it is from the content of the metacognition, while another is from the metacognitive process.

Therefore, there is a difference between metacognition as metacognitive knowledge and metacognition as metacognitive control. We will explain these two perspectives, as well as what they mean.

Magnifier on face with gears

Metacognitive knowledge

This term refers to what people know about their own cognitive processes, as well as the processes of other people. This perspective refers to aspects around concept or knowledge. It is the declarative knowledge you apply when you think about your intellectual capacity, learning abilities and memory.

This type of knowledge has the following characteristics:

  • It is relatively stable, as is an intuitive model of knowledge and how knowledge works.
  • It is observable and communicable (you can access this knowledge to reflect on it and talk about it).
  • It is imperfect. It can lead to erroneous reasoning and wrong ideas.
  • Late development. This kind of knowledge arises in the last stages of development because it requires the ability to be able to make abstractions.

Metacognitive knowledge consists of three components:

  • Personal variables. Knowledge about yourself as a thinker and student. That is, your abilities and experiences while performing various tasks. For example, thinking about how you are much better at math than sports, or that you are better at remembering names than your friend.
  • Task-related variables. Refers to the knowledge you have about topics and all the character traits related to their level of difficulty. For example, knowing that it takes a lot more effort to study than to read a book.
  • Strategic variables. Refers to knowledge about the means that can help you perform a task. It involves an understanding of declarative, procedural and conditional tasks with applicable strategies.

Metacognitive control

Metacognitive control refers to the active supervision and the following regulation and organization, based on the processes that take place at a given moment.

In other words, it refers to the ability to be aware of possible errors and act accordingly to reduce them. It is important to understand that cognitive processes play a role before, during and after the task in question.

Metacognitive control has the following characteristics:

  • It is not stable. Metacognitive control is associated with cognitive activity. This means that it depends on the situation and the specific task.
  • It is relatively independent of age. Experts believe that once the metacognitive processes are developed, age is not an influential variable.
  • It is, to a large extent, a procedural and unconscious process. Therefore, there are many aspects around megacognitive control that are inaccessible and uncommunicable.

The primary components of metacognitive control are:

  • Planning. It refers to making a strategic plan before embarking on a task. It involves organizing resources and strategies while keeping the ultimate goal in mind.
  • Supervision. It consists of revising and adjusting your actions while performing a task so that you can get closer to your goals. It involves an interactive process that is twofold: Bottom-up reasoning (error identification) and top-down reasoning (error correction).
  • Evaluation. This is the evaluation of the final results to consider corrections and strategic changes for future tasks.
Man who thinks

Concluding remarks on metacognition

Metacognition is a crucial part of information processing. In fact , you may observe that metacognition plays a role in most of the tasks you perform. 

You also need to understand that there is a very thin line between cognition and metacognition, which makes it seem like two dimensions of the same thing, rather than static categories.

More research on metacognition will help us better understand human thinking and reasoning, which is extremely important in many fields (such as education). This is because understanding how the human mind works will help us improve.

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