8.1 What is Metacognition in Psychology? – Definition & Examples

Jan 14, 2020 | Cognitive Psychology, Courses, ch8 How the Brain Stores & Recalls Information

Have you ever stopped to think about your thoughts? Sounds kind of deep, right? But actually, being metacognitive can help people with memory and awareness. Want to know how? Read on.

Definition of Metacognition

Whether we’re driving our cars, reading a book, texting a friend, or eating at a burger joint, we’re using our brains. Our thought processes aren’t limited to the classroom, and we learn all the time, from everyday experiences as well as from teachers and professors. So what’s important about this learning? It’s called metacognition, or what you know about your own thoughts. Metacognition is a deeper level of thinking that includes your ability to think about your thinking; how you understand, adapt, change, control, and use your thought processes.

Charlie, a professor preparing to instruct on metacognition, has written some ideas on the board about when his students use metacognition:

  • Anytime you problem solve or apply strategies, like figuring out a tip at a restaurant or planning a road trip across the country.
  • To reflect on results from a learning experience, or evaluate them, such as when you receive a B on a test and do extra credit to push the grade to an A.
  • When you’re aware of ways that work for you to remember information, like dates or facts for a test.

In other words, as Charlie later explains to his students, you’re being metacognitive anytime you stop and think about yourself as a thinker. Charlie’s students are a little confused, so he offers additional explanations.

A Closer Look at Metacognition

Charlie has his students think of a time when they were reading a book and noticed something that didn’t quite make sense. Maybe they thought a certain amount of time had passed but noticed it actually hadn’t or the names of the characters got confusing. These are both simple examples of metacognition; when the brain realized, ‘Wait – my thinking isn’t quite right.’ Charlie explains this awareness of thought is what you know about yourself as a thinker and learner. He explains that metacognition can be broken down into two categories:

1. Metacognitive Knowledge

His students are busy taking notes, so Charlie has them stop and talk for a minute, asking some questions. ‘What do you know about yourself as a thinker?’ His students reflect on the different ways they use to study for tests or solve problems. They discuss different learning styles and strategies they use to reach goals. Charlie explains that these are all examples of metacognitive knowledge, or what people know about themselves as learners.

2. Metacognitive Regulation

Now that his students understand metacognition and metacognitive knowledge, Charlie gently steps into metacognitive regulation, or ways to direct thoughts and learning. Don’t let the complicated words scare you. Like we’ve been talking about, you use this stuff all the time.

Charlie circles back and has his students go deeper. Knowing what kind of learners and thinkers they are, how do they use this information to achieve? The students brainstorm several metacognitive regulation strategies, such as planning and rehearsing for tests, reading in a quiet space, using charts and graphs to check on goals, and monitoring their comprehension when reading difficult text.

Now that all his students are on the same page, Charlie is ready to go one more step.

Three Types of Knowledge

Charlie reminds his students that metacognition is one’s ability to think about their thinking and that there are two ways to look at it: basic knowledge of ourselves and our thoughts and how we use that knowledge to learn better. But there’s one more thing: metacognitive knowledge is looked at in three deeper ways.

  1. Person variables: Just like it sounds, this strand defines how individuals understand their own learning styles, strengths, and weaknesses.
  2. Task variables: When a person can predict and make a plan about how to complete a task, like the time and effort needed to study for a test, the focus is on the task variable.
  3. Strategy variables: Is there something you always do to get ready for a test, like go to the library or organize note cards? If so, you’re using strategy variables, or knowledge of yourself as a learner to be more successful.

The good news is, that’s really all there is to a basic understanding of metacognition. Charlie’s students are doing well with the concept, but they have one question. Does being metacognitive really matter?

Does Metacognition Make You Smarter?

Turns out, being metacognitive and using strategies to regulate and process thinking is related to intelligence. Research shows that people who use metacognitive knowledge and regulation are using processes referred to as metacomponents, or processes that govern cognitive workings. An important piece to metacomponents, and its link to intelligence, is the use of the knowledge to change or modify thinking.

One such example is that time you were reading and noticed something didn’t quite make sense. If you stopped and tried to figure it out, you’re on a higher intelligence scale than the reader who kept on reading. In fact, all strategies you use to do better with cognitive functioning, from how to figure out a tip or read a map, are metacomponents that more intelligent people use.

Lesson Summary

Charlie’s class is over and his students are walking out with a new understanding of their brains. Most students were already being metacognitive, or aware of their thoughts and thinking about them, from time to time. Examples of this can be planning a trip, studying for a test in a quiet space, and checking in on their understanding of something while they read.

After learning about the two kinds of metacognition, knowledge and regulation, most students walk away with a solid understanding of the two. Metacognitive knowledge is what you know about yourself as a thinker, and metacognitive regulation is what you do with that knowledge to make learning and thinking better. Metacognitive knowledge can actually be looked at in three different ways: person variables, which defines how individuals understand their own learning styles, strengths and weaknesses; task variables, when a person can predict and make a plan about how to complete a task; and strategy variables, applying knowledge of yourself as a learner to a learning process.

In fact, all Charlie’s students agree that they use person, task, and strategy variables just about every day. Charlie senses he has a class of intelligent students, one who use metacomponents, or processes that help them to be better thinkers. He’ll find out for sure tomorrow, when his students take a quiz on metacognition.

8.2 Encoding Memory: Definition & Types
7.12 Dementia and Alzheimer's: Differences & Impact on Aging