Young children bet on their numerical skills: metacognition in the numerical domain

Psychol Sci. 2014 Sep;25(9):1712-21. doi: 10.1177/0956797614538458. Epub 2014 Jun 27.


Metacognition, the ability to assess one's own knowledge, has been targeted as a critical learning mechanism in mathematics education. Yet the early childhood origins of metacognition have proven difficult to study. Using a novel nonverbal task and a comprehensive set of metacognitive measures, we provided the strongest evidence to date that young children are metacognitive. We showed that children as young as 5 years made metacognitive "bets" on their numerical discriminations in a wagering task. However, contrary to previous reports from adults, our results showed that children's metacognition is domain specific: Their metacognition in the numerical domain was unrelated to their metacognition in another domain (emotion discrimination). Moreover, children's metacognitive ability in only the numerical domain predicted their school-based mathematics knowledge. The data provide novel evidence that metacognition is a fundamental, domain-dependent cognitive ability in children. The findings have implications for theories of uncertainty and reveal new avenues for training metacognition in children.

Keywords: childhood development; cognition; cognitive development; mathematical ability; metacognition; number comprehension.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aptitude*
  • Child
  • Child Development*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mathematics
  • Self-Assessment*