Insight in cognition: self-awareness of performance across cognitive domains

Appl Neuropsychol Adult. 2013;20(2):95-102. doi: 10.1080/09084282.2012.670144. Epub 2012 Dec 5.


Loss of cognitive functions, as apparent through self-awareness, is considered an important indicator of cognitive deficits and is therefore commonly used in clinical practice. However, little is known about self-awareness of cognitive performance, including its accuracy, its basis, and whether people can distinguish their performance across different cognitive domains. In the present study, 20 university students (M (age) = 21.7 ± 2.2 years, 9 males) and 20 middle-aged participants (M (age) = 52.8 ± 3.9 years, 10 males) gave estimations of their performances on executive functioning, memory, attention, and visuoperception before and after confrontation with their capacities. A repeated-measures analysis of variance with age group as a between-subjects factor was performed on the calculated estimation errors, before and after neuropsychological testing. Overall, the estimation errors were significantly higher before than after experience with test performance, ps < .01, partial η²s = .17. An overall effect of domain (four levels), ps < .001, partial η²s = .22 was found. These results suggest that self-awareness is domain-specific, and although it is adaptive to the experience of mental effort, it is most dependent on preexisting beliefs about one's own cognitive abilities.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aging / psychology
  • Attention
  • Cognition*
  • Executive Function
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Self-Assessment*
  • Visual Perception