Theoretical and Review Articles

Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 679-691

First online:

The comparative study of metacognition: Sharper paradigms, safer inferences

  • J. David SmithAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, SUNY Buffalo Email author 
  • , Michael J. BeranAffiliated withGeorgia State University
  • , Justin J. CouchmanAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, SUNY Buffalo
  • , Mariana V. C. CoutinhoAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, SUNY Buffalo


Results that point to animals’ metacognitive capacity bear a heavy burden, given the potential for competing behavioral descriptions. In this article, formal models are used to evaluate the force of these descriptions. One example is that many existing studies have directly rewarded so-called uncertainty responses. Modeling confirms that this practice is an interpretative danger because it supports associative processes and encourages simpler interpretations. Another example is that existing studies raise the concern that animals avoid difficult stimuli not because of uncertainty monitored, but because of aversion given error-causing or reinforcementlean stimuli. Modeling also justifies this concern and shows that this problem is not addressed by the common practice of comparing performance on chosen and forced trials. The models and related discussion have utility for metacognition researchers and theorists broadly, because they specify the experimental operations that will best indicate a metacognitive capacity in humans or animals by eliminating alternative behavioral accounts.