Difference Between Cognition and Metacognition

Cognition vs Metacognition

Since the study of cognition and metacognition is an interesting topic in a number of disciplines, one can have an interest to find out the difference between cognition and metacognition. However, for most people these two are very confusing. This is because the line of demarcation between the cognition and metacognition is often difficult to identify since these two tend to overlap. Basically, cognition deals with mental processes such as memory, learning, problem-solving, attention and decision making. However, the metacognition deals with an individual’s higher order cognitive processes , where a person has active control over his cognition. The aim of this article is to present a basic understanding of cognition and metacognition while emphasizing the difference between cognition and metacognition.

What is Cognition?

Cognition can simply be defined as all mental processes and abilities in which people engage on a daily basis such as memory, learning, problem-solving, evaluation, reasoning and decision making. Cognition helps to generate new knowledge through mental processes and also helps to use the knowledge that people have in daily life. Educational psychologists were especially interested in studying the cognitive processes of individuals through the growth and development of children. Jean Piaget is specifically important in this sphere since he presented stages of cognitive development of children from the birth to adulthood. They are sensorimotor stage (birth – 2 years), pre-operational stage (2 -7 years), concrete operational stage (7 – 11 years), and finally formal operational stage (adolescence – adulthood) .

Difference Between Cognition and Metacognition_Mental Processes

A systems approach on mental operations

What is Metacognition?

Metacognition is often defined as thinking about thinking. It allows us to complete a given task well through planning, monitoring, evaluating and comprehending. This means while cognitive processes allow normal functioning of individuals, metacognition takes it a level higher making a person more aware of his/her cognitive processes. For example, imagine a child who is completing a mathematical question. The cognitive process would allow the child to complete the task. However, the metacognition would double check through monitoring and evaluating the answer. In this sense, metacognition helps to verify and build the confidence of the child. This is why it can be said that metacognition helps successful learning.

According to John Flavell (1979), there are two categories of metacognition. They are metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive experience. The first category of metacognitive knowledge refers to the knowledge that helps to control the cognitive processes. This once again has been divided as knowledge of person variable, task variable and strategy variable. These deal with a person’s awareness of his capabilities, nature of the task and the method that needs to be accompanied in order to complete the task. On the other hand, metacognitive experience involves the strategies used to control cognitive processes so that the individual can accomplish the task successfully. These allow a person to monitor and evaluate while engaging in the process. Now, let us try to identify the key difference that exists between cognition and metacognition.

Difference Between Cognition and Metacognition

What is the difference between Cognition and Metacognition?

The main difference between these two stem from the fact that while cognition helps a person to engage in a variety of mental processes in order to make sense of the world around him metacognition goes a step further. It deals with the active control of cognitive processes. This is why metacognition usually precedes a cognitive activity.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Mental Operations” by Tekks – English Wikipedia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)