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Metacognition of Concepts

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - MetCogCon (Metacognition of Concepts)

Reporting period: 2018-03-01 to 2019-08-31

The Project investigates the thoughts and feelings that accompany the use of concepts. Concepts lie at the heart of the extraordinary power of the human mind. They are the building blocks of thought, the tools with which we think. Like physical tools, they can be more or less dependable, more or less fit for purpose: e.g. for most people AMPHIBIAN feels like a better concept than SHRUB. We have an intuitive sense of how dependable a concept is, which is crucial when we decide whether to rely on the concept. It can underpin our decision to reject some concepts (e.g. INNATE) and embrace others in our theorising (e.g. VALIDITY). Similarly in everyday thinking, when concepts are selected for reasoning and induction, and when different cognitive processes compete for control of action, the metacognition that accompanies the concepts involved is likely to have a powerful effect. However, metacognition directed at concepts is still poorly understood. We lack even a clear theoretical framework to underpin research in this area.

Developing an account of people’s metacognitive understanding of their concepts tells us important things about concepts and about cognitive control; and allows us to solve some thorny philosophical problems. The Project is the first systematic investigation of the scope of metacognition as it applies to concepts. We are combining the analytic methods developed by philosophers of mind and cognitive science with psychological model-building and experimental investigation.
In work so far the Project has:-

(1) Examined the theoretical foundations for the idea of metacognition applied to concepts, including the conceptual/non-conceptual distinction and how concepts as representations at the personal level differ in relevant ways from subpersonal representations.

(2) Carried out experimental studies of the phenomenon: the dimensions that underlie people’s feelings of concept-dependability and concept-understanding; and the way those feelings are relied on in making inductive inferences.

(3) Commenced a theoretical investigation of the place of concept-metacognition in a theory of concepts and the consequences thereof.

(4) Pioneered a model of how and why metacognitive ratings attach to representations that people are conscious of (that a thinker is manipulating in working memory / in a ‘global workspace’), including conscious thoughts involving concepts.

(5) Published a paper on the sources of justification for beliefs.

(6) Published research setting out the central role of deference in the social construction of concepts, with particular reference to abstract concepts.

(7) Carried out theoretical work and published papers on the mental processes that drive thinkers’ intuitions.

(8) Disseminated the research to academics in multiple disciplines (philosophy, psychology, cognitive neuroscience and the broader cognitive sciences) at workshops and conferences; to the general public at a high profile public engagement event; and in the media.
The Project will go on to examine:-

(1) The consequences for theories of concepts of the insights developed during the first phase of the Project.

(2) The role of metacognition in cognitive control processes.

(3) Further aspects of the social process of collective concept revision and construction, including the extent to which these processes are distinctively human.
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