Why Metacognition is Important

Why Metacognition is Important

As we all know, thinking is an important aspect of human cognition and is crucial for the active processing of our brain. Have you ever heard about the process of thinking about thinking? John Flavell in 1976 formally coined a new term metacognition which is the awareness people have about their own cognitive processes. Flavell in 1981 defined metacognition as the active monitoring and consequent regulation of the information processing activities carried out during cognitive transactions. Metacognition is a voluntary comprehension of one’s own thoughts as well as the implicit regulation of these thoughts in a way appropriate to the context.

The major components of metacognition are divided into two; metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive evaluation. Metacognitive knowledge is the broad awareness one has about thoughts and cognitive processes. Knowledge of cognition involves declarative, procedural, and conditional knowledge (Brown, 1987; Jacobs and Paris, 1987). Flavell categorized metacognitive knowledge as task variables, person variables, and strategy variables. Knowledge of person variables includes awareness about one’s own learning process. Knowledge of task variables includes awareness about the fundamentals of the task at hand. Finally, knowledge of strategy variables includes awareness about different strategies available and contextual appropriateness of each strategy. Metacognitive evaluation, on the other hand, involves how well individuals can use appropriate strategies to manage their thoughts. Metacognitive evaluation enables individuals to plan, monitor, self-regulate, and evaluate the outcomes of strategies used to manage cognitive processes. Additionally, the ability to recognize success or failure after regulation of cognitive processes and readiness to rectify the mistakes if failure was the result comprises of the metacognitive experiences of the individual.

Metacognitive abilities are significant in individuals as it could have several beneficial outcomes in academic, professional, and personal life. Here we briefly review some of the most crucial implications of metacognition. It has been proved in previous studies that metacognition positively influences academic performance in students. Zulkiply and Sarawak in their study mentioned that students who are high on metacognition are aware about their strengths and weaknesses and are able to use the appropriate strategies to improve their learning process. Such students will have the potential to regulate their own academic activities and thus excel in their studies. In a study by Maqsud (2006), it was identified that students with metacognitive abilities score better in mathematics and English. Similarly, it was also revealed in a study by Saricam and Ogurlu in 2016 that gifted children possess higher metacognitive skills than non-gifted children and the high metacognition reduces their math anxiety so that they can perform better in the subject. Furthermore, higher metacognitive skills also enable students to positively anticipate what the outcome and final grades would be in examinations. Vimla and Philip in 1994 showed that the expected grades and the actual grades are in fact similar with negligible differences, thus proving that higher metacognitive skills eventually lead to higher cognitive skills as well.

Metacognition could also positively impact one’s problem-solving skills. Swanson in 1990 identified that regardless of having high or low aptitude, students with high metacognitive abilities have effective problem-solving skills and engage in using hypothetico-deductive and evaluation techniques than those who are low on metacognition. Another study was conducted by Howard et al in 2000 to determine the relationship between metacognition and self-regulation along with problem-solving. The researchers conducted a factor analysis in which they identified that knowledge of cognition, objectivity, problem representation, subtask monitoring, and evaluation are the significant factors that determine the association between metacognitive awareness and self-regulation as well as problem-solving. Besides, individuals with higher metacognitive abilities will be process-oriented and such individuals perform better in verbalization and transfer tasks (Coletta et al., 1995).  Aurah in 2011 proved that metacognition improves problem-solving skills and thus teachers should focus more on developing metacognitive skills in students during classroom training so that they can equip their students with precise and constructive problem-solving skills.

Metacognition is also found to be correlated with decision making process in individuals. Ormond et al in 1991 found that metacognitive knowledge of decision making, decision making style, and performance in decision making tasks are all correlated to each other. It was also proved in a study by Colombo, Iannello, and Antonietti in 2010 that metacognitive awareness and knowledge about decision making is inevitable for professional excellence. Moreover, metacognitive skills enable individuals to involve in more deliberate decision making than intuitive decision making and such individuals are more involved in reflective reasoning (Strle, 2012).

Furthermore, metacognitive abilities also increase our critical thinking skills. Buyukahiska in 2018 identified that metacognitive skills improve critical thinking in senior EFL teachers. Similarly, metacognition could have significant influence on other factors like academic competence, creative thinking, and self-regulation. Thus metacognition is important to be explored and studied for understanding the complete cognitive profile of individuals. Metacognition can also be approached from a neurocognitive perspective as a research by Duque, Baird, and Posner in 2000 identified that several attentional networks, mainly located in midfrontal regions of brain are active during metacognitive regulation, especially during conflict resolution, error correction, and emotional regulation. Hence studies associating metacognition with attention and executive functions would have significant implications in future. Studies could also focus on developing and evaluating various metacognitive strategies that could be effectively applied in classroom settings, workplaces, and other personal areas of growth and excellence so that metacognitive skills and reflective abilities of individuals could be improved. Because metacognitive studies are relevant today as thinking about thinking plays a significant role in our overall cognitive development.

About the Author

Parvathy Viswanath
Post Graduate Student (Psychology).

I'm Parvathy Viswanath, M.Sc Psychology student from Indian Institute of Psychology and Research, Bangalore, Karnataka, India. I hail from Thrissur

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