This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 07 table of contents.

Metacognition: Thinking About Thinking

Analytic thinking, unlike intuition, is accessible to consciousness. One way to improve analytic thinking is to become more aware of the thought process itself so it can be modified or improved. That is an assumption that underlies modern work on metacognition The word metacognition means higher level cognition and refers to thinking about the thought process itself. To the extent you can monitor your own thoughts, you might be able to change and improve the way your thought processes operate.

What is metacognition? Why is double-checking an example of metacognition?

A simple example of metacognition is double-checking. Double-checking can be used in many situations. You may believe you have set the alarm clock properly, but you are not sure, so you double-check. What exactly is double-checking? It is a routine you can activate in almost any situation: "check twice." Since checking is a mental operation, the instruction to check twice (usually given silently to oneself) is an example of thinking about a mental operation, so it is metacognition.

What general benefit of double-checking is illustrated by the saying, "Measure twice, cut once"?

The reason for double-checking is to avoid costly errors. Carpenters have a saying that relates to this: "Measure twice, cut once." If you measure twice before cutting a piece of wood, you might not have to cut again to make it fit correctly where you want to use it. Double-checking saves time and prevents wasted resources.

Chapter 6 (Memory) included an example of metacognition in the discussion of judgments of learning (JOLs). Experimental evidence shows that people make incorrect judgments of learning immediately after studying. To make a correct assessment, a person must take time off, think about something else, then come back to the material. Only then can one ask oneself, "Have I really learned this?" and be confident of a correct answer. If you modify your study practices, based on this knowledge about how memory works, then you are "doing metacognition." Your thought process is modifying itself, based on what it is learning about itself. That is a unique advantage humans gain by having consciousness of their own mental processes.


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