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What is metacognition?

Metacognition refers to ‘thinking about thinking’ and involves active control over the cognitive processes engaged in thinking and acquiring knowledge or learning. Metacognition also involves the notion of self, ranging from self as own body to self as own identity or ‘agency’. A sense of body ownership occurs regardless of whether an action is generated by the self or others, whereas a sense of agency refers to the sense of being the one who initiates an action. Sense of agency is linked to the ability to maintain the distinction between the individual and the environment. Intrusive thoughts are generally defined as thoughts that are unwanted or unintended, and can be perceived as uncontrollable. It is argued that when intrusive thoughts are experienced, any inconsistency between metacognitive beliefs about one’s ability to control thoughts and the experience of uncontrollable intrusive thoughts may lead to cognitive dissonance, a state of negative arousal. From this perspective, hallucination prone individuals are motivated to attribute their intrusive thoughts to an external source in the attempt to prevent cognitive dissonance
from occurring.

What is the evidence for metacognition?

High quality evidence suggests impaired self-awareness, particularly sense of agency, and poor self-recognition in people with schizophrenia compared to controls. Moderate quality evidence suggests people experiencing hallucinations or hallucination proneness have increased thoughts of uncontrollability and danger, cognitive confidence, and cognitive self-consciousness compared to people not experiencing hallucinations or hallucination proneness.


April 2016

Page last updated: 5:38  12 March 2019

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