Within the world of research covering memory and other cognitive processes, there are those who study metacognition. The field of metacognition covers how people monitor, or self-reflect, on their cognitive abilities and memory processes, as well as how they utilize these process to control, or regulate, their ability to process information. From a simple standpoint, metacognition has been described as one’s ability to think about thinking (Koriat, 2007; Powell et al., 2021). In other words, metacognition is used to describe what people understand about their cognitive processes and how this information can be used to influence their behaviors. Metacognition is typically broken down into two parts: an object level, encompassing operations surrounding information processing such as encoding and retrieving, and a meta-level, which encompasses the monitoring, regulation, and use of this knowledge (Koriat, 2007). For example, the object level can be explained by the rehearsing or comprehending of material, while the meta level covers concepts such as devising learning strategies to better understand material. The study of metacognition has been influenced by research from many different fields including developmental psychology, memory research, social psychology, and educational psychology, just to name a few (Koriat, 2007). However, one of the main questions that is researched is how regulation of metacognition can be utilized to boost memory performance. This research question stems from the idea that metacognition is an active and typically conscious process that a person typically has control of. This concept differs from the traditional behavioristic idea where a person’s behavior is largely influenced by stimulus which causes one to react instinctually (Koriat, 2007).
Metacognitive regulation is a term which encompasses self-regulation techniques that one might adopt to control their thinking, such as regulating the way we think about material, or study, in order to better understand a topic (Koriat, 2007). These techniques have been demonstrated to have many positive impacts on memory performance and learning. For example, researchers have found that monitoring, or self-reflecting, of one’s own understanding, or accuracy, of their learning material (known as judgements of learning) led to increased memory performance as measured by test scores (Koriat, 2007). In other studies, metacognitive strategies, such as the use of mental imagery techniques aimed at visualizing learning material, were shown to increase overall goal achievement in memory recall, while the use of strategies such as cognitive mapping, or creating physical-graphical representations of how learned topics are related to one another, were shown to increase test scores among pharmacy students (Powell et al., 2021; Knäuper et al., 2009).
Although many of these techniques have demonstrated success in memory performance, it is important to understand that there are a multitude of factors that can potentially influence the effectiveness of these strategies. For example, researchers found that the order in which information is studied, or practiced, within metacognitive regulation impacts the effectiveness of the entire strategy. This topic is demonstrated by Mecalfe’s work who observed that the best performance results in studying for memory was when self-paced study focused on information that was easy to understand first, before moving on to topics that required more cognitive resources to understand (Koriat, 2007). Another influencer on the effectiveness of metacognitive regulation were feelings of self-confidence and self-efficacy. Researchers found that those who had more confidence in their abilities were more likely to utilize self-regulations strategies that benefited their memory recall (Koriat, 2007). Metacognitive regulation effectiveness has also been shown to be impacted by one’s ability to look inward and their locus of control, or a self-measurement of one’s ability to influence the impact of outside forces. For example, research indicates that as one gets older, they shift from an internal to an external locus of control, meaning they feel as though they have less control of external factors. This shift in belief has been correlated to a negative impact on the effectiveness of one’s use of metacognitive strategies (Hertzog, Dixon, & Hultsch, 1990; Irak & Capan, 2018).
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