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Metacognition and Theory of MindReview - Metacognition and Theory of Mind
by Eleonora Papaleontiou-Louca (Editor)
Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008
Review by Santiago Arango Muñoz
Sep 30th 2010 (Volume 14, Issue 39)

Metacogntion and Theory of Mind (henceforth ToM) are two of the major topics of interest in current research in psychology, philosophy and cognitive science. The ambitious goal of this book is to study these two capacities and explore the links and relations between them.

Chapter one deals with the definition of the concept of metacognition. It surveys many different approaches and shows that it is a rich concept that includes more psychological phenomena than mere thoughts about thoughts: It comprises mainly four distinct but interrelated psychological components: metacognitive knowledge, metacognitive regulation, metacognitive skills and metacognitive experiences.

Chapter two aims to trace the history of the concept and to relate it to Vygotsky's theory of child development. One of Vygotsky's major claims is that "all higher functions originate as actual relationships between individuals". Given that metacognition is a higher function, therefore the development of this capacity should rely on some type of social interaction, namely the process of learning – monitored, guided and controlled by parents and teachers – that is later internalized. Thus, metacognitive self-regulation, e.g. in learning, is just the product of the "transference from other-regulation to self-regulation" (p.10). This is a very interesting thesis that would deserve a deeper analysis, but unfortunately the author does not even try to either support or reject it.

Chapter three describes two models of metacognition. It starts with Flavell's model that combines metacognitive knowledge, experiences, goals and actions. On the one hand, metacognitive knowledge consists primarily of knowledge about what factors or variables (e.g. person, task and strategy) act and interact to affect the course and outcome of cognitive enterprises. It can be declarative (knowing-that) or procedural (knowing-how). The relevance of this kind of knowledge is the range of behaviors that it produces: "It can lead someone to select, evaluate, revise and abandon cognitive tasks, goals and strategies" (p.13). On the other hand, metacognitive experiences are experiences that have to do with the cognitive endeavor or enterprise. Some examples are the anxiety, doubt or feeling of knowing that a subject may undergo before, during, or after facing a cognitive task. Finally, metacognitive skill refers to the conscious control processes such as planning, monitoring and effort allocation. Nelson and Narens' model is the second account described in this chapter. This model contains two interrelated levels of processing: "object-level" and "meta-level" which share two dominance relations: monitoring and control. The chapter suffers from two failures: Not only is Nelson and Narens' model poorly described, but given the lack of any critical reflection concerning the two models, it seems unclear which of the two models the author considers more adequate.

Chapter four focus on the educational application of the findings on metacognition to improve learning in children. The author highlights the importance of the promotion of metacognition and metacognitive strategies in order to promote self-regulated learning in children. There are many metacognitive strategies to apply in the classroom such as identifying what you know and what you don't know, planning and organizing strategies to solve problems, generating questions about the cognitive processes, choosing consciously among the possible cognitive strategies, setting and pursuing cognitive goals, evaluating the way of thinking and acting, identifying the difficulty, labeling students' behaviors and cognitive routines, debriefing the thinking process, thinking aloud, creating interactive multimedia learning environment, keeping a thinking journal, among others. As the writer points out, all or almost all these methods that contribute to the development of self-awareness and self-control seem to involve language and in this sense language plays a fundamental role in metacognition.

The first part of the book, dealing with metacognition, ends with Chapter five. It shows how metacognition improves in general all learning processes fostering strategic planning, adequate management of time, and progress monitoring.

The second part of the book deals with ToM. As with metacognition, the author recollects and puts together a bunch of different definitions and ways of understanding the concept "ToM": A research area, the understanding of others' minds, a conceptual system, a folk theory. The author, however, seems to prefer the narrow usage of "ToM" referring to the understanding of other minds by means of meta-representations of their mental states. She also points that there are important intracultural and intercultural differences during the development of ToM.

Chapter seven discusses very briefly the Theory-Theory view of ToM, the Simulation theory, and the Enculturation viewpoint, but it does not favor any of them. Chapter eight describes the main features of ToM. The characterization begins by proposing some important distinctions that a being should be able to draw if it is to be considered as possessing a ToM: 1) The Ability to distinguish between appearance and reality, 2) the ability to recognize representational diversity, 3) the ability to recognize representational change, and 4) the ability to distinguish representational activity from representational entity. Then, the author explains some features of second-order intentionality or meta-representation, and presents some of the classic experimental paradigms to investigate ToM in infants and children, as well as some of the research dealing with their introspective capacities. But as with other topics of this book, the author introduces or recapitulates a number of familiar concepts, theories and ideas, but in the end never explains how everything fits together; nor does she take a clear position on the central controversial issues in the debate.

The next two chapters (9 and 10) analyze the relationship between metacognition and language, and ToM and language respectively. They point to the fact that language promotes both metacognitive and ToM capacities. The author reviews three possible relations between ToM and language: ToM depends on language, language depends on ToM, or both capacities depend on another common factor. At the end, the author suggests – without either elaborated argument or explanation – that the relation is bi-directional rather than one-way. The last chapter just provides a list of superficial similarities and differences. There is no serious analysis, and the issue is left unsatisfactorily treated.

The book has the virtue of being written with a clear style and to be accessible to non-specialists on the topic. Another virtue is that it puts together a lot of data concerning metacognition and ToM coming from different research programs. However, the book contains some important flaws. First, the conceptual analysis that aims to characterize both metacognition and ToM falls short. Second, the review of the literature is insufficient and a bit outdated given the enormous amount of recent experimental and conceptual research dealing with both capacities in the last decade. Third, the possible links between metacognition and ToM remain under-considered. In a nutshell: metacognition and ToM deserve much more.

 

© 2010 Santiago Arango Muñoz


Santiago Arango Muñoz,

Ruhr Universität Bochum (RUB), Germany

Jean-Nicod Institut, Paris (IJN), France

http://rub.academia.edu/SantiagoArangoMunoz


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