Metacognition, metamemory, and mindreading in high-functioning adults with autism spectrum disorder

J Abnorm Psychol. 2014 Aug;123(3):650-9. doi: 10.1037/a0036531. Epub 2014 Jun 23.


Metacognition refers to cognition about cognition and encompasses both knowledge of cognitive processes and the ability to monitor and control one's own cognitions. The current study aimed to establish whether metacognition is impaired in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). According to some theories, the ability to represent one's own mental states (an aspect of metacognition) relies on the same mechanism as the ability to represent others' mental states ("mindreading"). Given numerous studies have shown mindreading is impaired in ASD, there is good reason to predict concurrent impairments in metacognition. Metacognition is most commonly explored in the context of memory, often by assessing people's ability to monitor their memory processes. The current study addressed the question of whether people with ASD have difficulty monitoring the contents of their memory (alongside impaired mindreading). Eighteen intellectually high-functioning adults with ASD and 18 IQ- and age-matched neurotypical adults participated. Metamemory monitoring ability and mindreading ability were assessed by using a feeling-of-knowing task and the "animations" task, respectively. Participants also completed a self-report measure of metacognitive ability. In addition to showing impaired mindreading, participants with ASD made significantly less accurate feeling-of-knowing judgments than neurotypical adults, suggesting that metamemory monitoring (an aspect of metacognition) was impaired. Conversely, participants with ASD self-reported superior metacognitive abilities compared with those reported by neurotypical participants. This study provides evidence that individuals with ASD have metamemory monitoring impairments. The theoretical and practical implications of these findings for our current understanding of metacognition in ASD and typical development are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child Development Disorders, Pervasive / psychology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Theory of Mind / physiology*
  • Young Adult