Skip to main content

Cognitive, metacognitive, and motivational aspects of problem solving


This article examines the role of cognitive, metacognitive, and motivational skills in problem solving. Cognitive skills include instructional objectives, components in a learning hierarchy, and components in information processing. Metacognitive skills include strategies for reading comprehension, writing, and mathematics. Motivational skills include motivation based on interest, self-efficacy, and attributions. All three kinds of skills are required for successful problem solving in academic settings.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Anand, P.G. & Ross, S.M. (1987). Using computer-assisted instruction to personalize arithmetic materials for elementary school children. Journal of Educational Psychology: 72‐78.

  2. Bean, T.W. & Steenwyk, F.L. (1984). The effect of three forms of summarization instruction on sixth graders’ summary writing and comprehension. Journal of Reading Behavior: 297‐306.

  3. Block, J.H. & Burns, R.B. (1976). Mastery learning. In L.S. Shulman, ed., Review of Research in Education, Volume 4. Itsaca, IL: Peacock.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Bloom, B.S. (1976). Human Characteristics and School Learning. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Bloom, B.S., Englehart, M.D., Furst, E.J., Hill, W.H. & Krathwohl, D.R. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals. Handbook 1: Cognitive domain.York: McKay.

  6. Borkowski, J.G., Weyhing, R.S. & Carr, M. (1988). Effects of attributional retraining on strategy-based reading comprehension in learning disabled students. Journal of Educational Psychology: 46‐53.

  7. Brown, A.L. & Day, J.D. (1983). Macrorules for summarizing texts: The development of expertise. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior: 1‐14.

  8. Chi, M.T.H., Glaser, R. & Farr, M.J., eds. (1988). The Nature of Expertise. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Chipman, S.F., Segal, J.W. & Glaser, R., eds. (1985). Thinking and Learning Skills, Volume 2: Research and Open Questions. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Cook, L.K. & Mayer, R.E. (1988). Teaching readers about the structure of scientific text. Journal of Educational Psychology 80: 448‐456.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Dewey, J. (1913). Interest and Effort in Education.Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press.

  12. Ericsson, K.A. & Smith, J., eds. (1991). Toward a General Theory of Expertise. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Fitzgerald, J. & Teasley, A.B. (1986). Effects of instruction in narrative structure on children’s writing. Journal of Educational Psychology: 424‐432.

  14. Gagne, R.M. (1968). Learning hierarchies. Educational Psychologist: 1‐9.

  15. Gagne, R.M., Mayor, J.R., Garstens, H.L. & Paradise, N.E. (1962). Factors in acquiring knowledge in a mathematics task. Psychological Monographs(7) (Whole No. 526).

  16. Garner, R., Gillingham, M.G. & White, C.S. (1989). Effects of “seductive details” on macroprocessing and microprocessing in adults and children. Cognition and Instruction, 6: 41‐57.

  17. Graham, S. (1984). Communicating sympathy and anger to black and white children: The cognitive (attributional) consequences of affective cues. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: 40‐54.

  18. Graham, S. & Barker, G.P. (1990). The down side of help: An attributional-developmental analysis of helping behavior as a low-ability cue. Journal of Educational Psychology: 7‐14.

  19. Graham, S. & Harris, K.R. (1988). Instructional recommendations for teaching writing to exceptional students. Exceptional Children: 506‐512.

  20. Halpern, D.F., ed. (1992). Enhancing Thinking Skills in the Sciences and Mathematics. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

  21. Hayes, J.R. & Flower, L.S. (1986). Writing research and the writer. American Psychologist 41: 1106‐1113.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Lewis, A.B. (1989). Training students to represent arithmetic word problems. Journal of Educational Psychology: 363‐371.

  23. Luchins, A.S. & Luchins, E.H. (1970). Wertheimer’s Seminars Revisited: Problem Solving and Thinking (Vol. 1). Albany, NY: State University of New York.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Mayer, R.E. (1985). Mathematical ability. In R.J. Sternberg, ed., Human Abilities: An Information Processing Approach (pp. 127‐150). New York: Freeman.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Mayer, R.E. (1987). Educational Psychology: A Cognitive Approach. New York: Harper Collins.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Mayer, R.E. (1992). Thinking, Problem Solving, Cognition: Second Edition.New York: Freeman.

  27. Mayer, R.E. & Wittrock, M.C. (in press). Problem solving and transfer. In D. Berliner & R. Calfee, eds., Handbook of Educational Psychology. New York: Macmillan.

  28. Nickerson, R.S., Perkins, D.N. & Smith, E.E., eds. (1985). The Teaching of Thinking. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Pintrich, P.R. & De Groot, E.V. (1990). Motivation and self-regulated learning components of classroom academic performance. Journal of Educational Psychology: 33‐40.

  30. Pressley, M. (1990). Cognitive Strategy Instruction. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Renninger, K.A., Hidi, S. & Krapp, A., eds. (1992). The Role of Interest in Learning and Development.Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

  32. Rinehart, S.D., Stahl, S.A. & Erickson, L.G. (1986). Some effects of summarization training on reading and studying. Reading Research Quarterly: 422‐438.

  33. Robins, S. & Mayer, R.E. (1993). Schema training in analogical reasoning. Journal of Educational Psychology: 529‐538.

  34. Ross, S.M., McCormick, D., Krisak, N. & Anand, P. (1985). Personalizing context in teaching mathematical concepts: Teacher-managed and computer-managed models. Educational Communication Technology Journal: 169‐178.

  35. Schiefele, U. (1992). Topic interest and level of text comprehension. In K.A. Renninger, S. Hidi & A. Krapp, eds., The Role of Interest in Learning and Development (pp. 151‐182). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Schiefele, U., Krapp, A. & Winteler, A. (1992). In K.A. Renninger, S. Hidi & A. Krapp, eds., The Role of Interest in Learning and Development (pp. 183‐212). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Schoenfeld, A.H. (1979). Explicit heuristic training as a variable in problem-solving performance. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education 10: 173‐187.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Schoenfeld, A.H. (1985). Mathematical Problem Solving. Orlando, FL: Academic Press.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Schunk, D. (1991). Self-efficacy and academic motivation. Educational Psychologist: 207‐231.

  40. Schunk, D.H. & Hanson, A.R. (1985). Peer models: Influences on children’s self-efficacy and achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology: 313‐322.

  41. Smith, M.U., ed. (1991). Toward a Unified Theory of Problem Solving: Views from the Content Domains. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

  42. Segal, J.W., Chipman, S.F. & Glaser, R., eds. (1985). Thinking and Learning Skills, Volume 1: Relating Instruction to Research. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Sternberg, R.J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A Triarchic Theory of Human Intelligence. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Sternberg, R.J. & Frensch, P.A., eds. (1991). Complex Problem Solving: Principles and Mechanisms. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Sternberg, R.J. & Gardner, M.K. (1983). Unities in inductive reasoning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General: 80‐116.

  46. Taylor, B.M. & Beach, R.W. (1984). The effects of text structure instruction on middle-grade students’ comprehension and production of expository text. Reading Research Quarterly 19: 134‐146.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Wade, S.E. (1992). How interest affects learning from text. In K.A. Renninger, S. Hidi & A. Krapp, eds., The Role of Interest in Learning and Development (pp. 255‐278). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Weiner, B. (1986). An Attributional Theory of Motivation and Emotion. New York: Springer-Verlag.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Wertheimer, M. (1959). Productive Thinking. New York: Harper & Row.

    Google Scholar 

  50. White, R.T. (1974). The validation of a learning hierarchy. American Educational Research Journal: 121‐236.

  51. Zimmerman, B.J. & Martinez-Pons, M. (1990). Student differences in self-regulated learning: Relating grade, sex, and giftedness to self-efficacy and strategy use. Journal of Educational Psychology: 51‐59.

Download references

Author information



Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Mayer, R.E. Cognitive, metacognitive, and motivational aspects of problem solving. Instructional Science 26, 49–63 (1998).

Download citation


  • Information Processing
  • Motivational Skill
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Cognitive Skill
  • Academic Setting