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Self-Awareness & Metacognition. March 16, 2010 Psychology 485. Outline. http:// Introduction History & Definitions Self-recognition Associative processes? Metacognition Associative processes, modeling and Behavioral Economics. History.

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Self awareness metacognition

Self-Awareness & Metacognition

March 16, 2010

Psychology 485



  • Introduction

    • History & Definitions

  • Self-recognition

    • Associative processes?

  • Metacognition

    • Associative processes, modeling and Behavioral Economics


  • Rene Descartes

    • Cogito ergo sum

    • I think, therefore I am

  • Dualism

  • Cartesian theatre

    • A place in your head where “you” are watching things happen

1 self awareness
1. Self-awareness

  • Humans are aware of ourselves as animate beings

    • Control of own behaviour

    • Mental representation of ourselves

  • Are animals self-aware?

    • Mirror tasks

2 metacognition
2. Metacognition

  • Thinking about thinking

  • Primary vs secondary representations

  • Assessing internal states is not enough

    • Knowing that you are hungry isn’t metacognition

2 metacognition1
2. Metacognition

  • Assessing knowledge states

    • Some people know a lot about baseball, some don’t know much

  • Do you know how much you know?

    • e.g. “I really have to study for this midterm tomorrow, I don’t know anything!”

Know a lot

John is a moderate fan of baseball

Know a little

Morgan s canon
Morgan’s canon

  • Do not interpret as higher cognitive process if lower process will suffice

  • Difficult to “show” secondary representations (especially without language)

    • Can self-awareness and metacognition be explained through reinforcement history and/or associative learning?

Self awareness self recognition
Self-Awareness & Self-Recognition

Gallup s mirror test
Gallup’s Mirror test

  • A test of self-recognition, self-consciousness

  • Stages:

    • Time to adjust/experience mirror

    • Tranquilize animal and paint 2 dots (visible and control-hidden)

    • See if animal notices dot, compare to control dot

  • Animals tested: chimps, dolphins, elephants, magpies, cats?

But it can be trained
But... It can be trained?

  • Epstein, Lanza & Skinner (1981)

    • Trained pigeons to peck at blue dot

    • Experience with mirror (see blue dot in mirror, peck at origin)

    • Blue dot on pigeon, under bib

    • Peck at bib

  • video

Shaping of self observation
Shaping of Self-Observation?


Kinds of questions we ask children reinforces self-observation

e.g., “are you hungry?” “what are you doing?”

Accurate response likely results in some form of desired outcome (i.e., reinforcement of behaviour)

Uncertainty monitoring
Uncertainty monitoring

  • Do animals know when they don’t know?

    • Dolpins, pigeons, rats, non-human primates

  • Testing procedure

    • Some trials include the option to ‘decline’

    • If animals know they don’t know, should decline to answer

Uncertainty monitoring1
Uncertainty Monitoring

Study phase:

Short or Long tone



Choice phase:

1/3 Forced Test

2/3 Choice

Test phase:

6 pellets if correct

0 pellets if incorrect

3 pellets

Uncertainty monitoring2
Uncertainty Monitoring

  • If animals have metacognition:

    • Increase use of ‘decline’ option as task difficulty increases

      • Red-green  not much use of ‘decline’

      • Light green-dark green  more use of ‘decline’

    • Accuracy is higher on ‘chosen’ tests than ‘forced’ tests

      • You choose to take the test when you know the answer

    • Accuracy difference increases with task difficulty

  • Can associative processes explain higher accuracy on ‘Chosen’ tests?

Quantitative modelling
Quantitative Modelling

  • Smith, Beran, Couchman, & Coutinho, 2008

    • Reinforcement of ‘decline’ options creates a “low frequency tendency” to decline

    • Competes with generalization gradients for each stimulus

Quantitative modelling1
Quantitative Modelling


Response Strength

Decline Threshold




Subjective level of stimulus

Quantitative modelling2
Quantitative Modelling

  • Reinforcement to decline option creates a constant response-strength tendency

    • Competes with response-strength of stimuli

  • Winner-take-all mechanism

  • Since it is based on subjective view of stimuli, also accounts for difference between Chosen-Forced accuracy

Simulation data
Simulation Data

  • Shows associative processes can explain metacognition

  • Morgan’s canon?

Behavioural economic model
Behavioural Economic Model

  • Jozefowiez, Staddon& Cerutti, 2009

  • Similar to quantitative model, but measures

    • Probability of payoff

    • Risk levels (is animal risk-prone or risk-averse?)

Behavioural economic model1
Behavioural Economic Model

Short response

Long response


Probability of payoff at subjective equality is diminished





Subjective level of stimulus

Behavioural economic model2
Behavioural Economic Model

Short response

Long response


Correct 50% of time, average reward = 3 pellets

Decline reward = 3 pellets


Risk Neutral




Subjective level of stimulus

Behavioural economic model3
Behavioural Economic Model

Short response

Long response


Risk Averse

Would rather guarantee payoff of 3 than risk no reward





Subjective level of stimulus

Behavioural economic model4
Behavioural Economic Model

  • More on this next week...

  • When might an animal want to guarantee some kind of payoff?

  • When might they be willing to “risk it” for the larger payoff?

  • Model accounts for changing needs, and metacognition

    • Still doesn’t assume metacognition

Awareness consciousness
Awareness & Consciousness


  • Is self-awareness/metacognition/consciousness necessary?

    • Why learn to be self-aware? Evolutionary advantages?