Domain-specific and domain-general processes underlying metacognitive judgments

Conscious Cogn. 2017 Mar;49:264-277. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2017.01.011. Epub 2017 Mar 8.


Metacognition and self-awareness are commonly assumed to operate as global capacities. However, there have been few attempts to test this assumption across multiple cognitive domains and metacognitive evaluations. Here, we assessed the covariance between "online" metacognitive processes, as measured by decision confidence judgments in the domains of perception and memory, and error awareness in the domain of attention to action. Previous research investigating metacognition across task domains have not matched stimulus characteristics across tasks raising the possibility that any differences in metacognitive accuracy may be influenced by local task properties. The current experiment measured metacognition in perceptual, memorial and attention tasks that were closely matched for stimulus characteristics. We found that metacognitive accuracy across the three tasks was dissociated suggesting that domain specific networks support an individual's capacity for accurate metacognition. This finding was independent of objective performance, which was controlled using a staircase procedure. However, response times for metacognitive judgments and error awareness were associated suggesting that shared mechanisms determining how these meta-level evaluations unfold in time may underlie these different types of decision. In addition, the relationship between these laboratory measures of metacognition and reports of everyday functioning from participants and their significant others (informants) was investigated. We found that informant reports, but not self reports, predicted metacognitive accuracy on the perceptual task and participants who underreported cognitive difficulties relative to their informants also showed poorer metacognitive accuracy on the perceptual task. These results are discussed in the context of models of metacognitive regulation and neuropsychological evidence for dissociable metacognitive systems. The potential for the refinement of metacognitive assessment in clinical populations is also discussed.

Keywords: Confidence judgments; Decision making; Error monitoring; Metacognition; Prefrontal cortex; Self-awareness.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Judgment / physiology*
  • Male
  • Metacognition / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Young Adult