Oct. 26, 2010
Jeremy Craig, 404-413-1357
ATLANTA — A Georgia State University scientist and his colleague are researching basic foundations critical to being able learn, know and remember.
Michael J. Beran, a senior research scientist at GSU, and J. David Smith, a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, recently received grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation to explore what is called metacognition – or “thinking about thinking” – in humans and animals.
The awards total more than $1 million, and the research will use the facilities of GSU’s Language Research Center.
Metacognition is critical to many intellectual and educational activities, and it enables humans to be successful learners. For example, a person is engaging in metacognition if that person realizes that he or she is having trouble learning a particular concept over another.
Through this research program, scientists hope to better understand how metacognition works in adult humans and its origins in animals.
“Although metacognition is a well-established area of research in human psychology, the study of the precursors to human metacognition in nonverbal animals is a relatively new and exciting area of comparative research,” Beran said.
Beran and Smith’s work will compare the performance of monkeys and apes with that of humans, with a goal of finding similarities and differences in how each of these groups reflect on their own knowledge, and then seek information needed to guide intelligent decision making.
This research has its origins in an earlier project, where Smith collaborated with other LRC scientists, including David Washburn, director of the LRC and chair of the Department of Psychology.
During that research, they sought to find out whether animals could respond to uncertainty by avoiding decisions for which they were likely to make errors. The new research program builds off of that, investigating to see if those responses are more than a conditioned behavior.
The new research will also help scientists understand whether judgments made in the process of metacognition are shared by both humans and animals.
Beran and Smith expect that the results of the new project could also affect theories in comparative psychology, developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, cognitive neuroscience and the study of human evolution.