The role of metacognition in human social interactions
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Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 367 (1599): 2213--2223 (2012)

Metacognition concerns the processes by which we monitor and control our own cognitive processes. It can also be applied to others, in which case it is known as mentalizing. Both kinds of metacognition have implicit and explicit forms, where implicit means automatic and without awareness. Implicit metacognition enables us to adopt a we-mode, through which we automatically take account of the knowledge and intentions of others. Adoption of this mode enhances joint action. Explicit metacognition enables us to reflect on and justify our behaviour to others. However, access to the underlying processes is very limited for both self and others and our reports on our own and others' intentions can be very inaccurate. On the other hand, recent experiments have shown that, through discussions of our perceptual experiences with others, we can detect sensory signals more accurately, even in the absence of objective feedback. Through our willingness to discuss with others the reasons for our actions and perceptions, we overcome our lack of direct access to the underlying cognitive processes. This creates the potential for us to build more accurate accounts of the world and of ourselves. I suggest, therefore, that explicit metacognition is a uniquely human ability that has evolved through its enhancement of collaborative decision-making.
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