Metacognition on Moral Judgment, Learning, and Reasoning

In the late 1970’s, child developmental psychologist John H. Flavell originally penned the word “metacognition.” He defines the word as “cognition about cognitive phenomenon.” Metacognition, the study of one’s thought about their thoughts, is driven by the notion that if metacognition is valid, then many would be able to effectively control how they learn and retain knowledge. Though much research has demonstrated that people’s “metacomprehension” is biased based off past experiences, it has also shown that people with this sort of knowledge also have made accurate judgments.

People make decisions every day using frequency estimates. Frequency estimates are the assessments of how often various events have occurred in the past. As this method is applied to more research based information such as shopping for a car or a home in a specific neighborhood, we tend to use the strategy in which we assess the information we have already scanned in our minds for gathering information we need known as attribute substitution.

For example, hoping that rush hour traffic is not as bad on one interstate or expressway before making the decision on whether to take the back roads. Many times these decisions are based off past experiences. The last times Kathy left home at 7:30 am to be at work by 8:30am, she was still 20 minutes late because early morning rush hour traffic was at its peak. So it is likely that she will make the decision to 1) leave earlier to make it on time, or 2) take a different route to work.

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It is important to note the three important skills to regulating metacognition in order to gather how metacognition works when making decisions. These regulations are planning, monitoring, and evaluating. In Kathy’s scenario, she must plan accordingly to assess her resources in order to get to work on time. Monitoring involves the understanding of what is going on, in this case morning rush hour, and evaluating the overall picture before she comes to her final decision on what to do: take the normal route or take the back roads.

What about when it comes to making judgment calls or decisions on more personal situations? Moral Decisions and Ethics Research Researchers and scholars have advocated for the inclusion of metacognition in one’s understanding of the ethical decision making process and in support of moral learning. Still, there are many studies still being implemented that have not yet successfully proven this. One measure of metacognition and moral learning and understanding was recently proposed using the Moral Metacognition Scale, or MMS. Researchers Joan M. McMahon and Darren J. Good conducted four studies on undergraduates to determine their metacognition when it came to moral decision-making and ethics. These studies were conducted on primarily on undergraduates from the United States, and 83 non-student adults. The studies consisted of a series of questions regarding the ethics behind decision-making and how they think about what they think.

Study 1, called the Initial Scale Development and Exploratory Factor Analysis, resulted in the demonstration of the existence of two prominent factors of metacognition: knowledge and regulation (Flavell et al., 1994). Also demonstrated were the three types of metacognitive knowledge commonly recognized as declarative, procedural, and conditional. To better understand this, let us explain these terms. Declarative knowledge refers to facts of information one knows, whether spoken or written. It is also the knowledge one has about themselves as the learners. It determines what factors can influence one’s performance. Procedural knowledge is the information on how to perform the procedural steps that make up a task. Conditional knowledge is the knowledge one carries when it comes to applying a specific procedure, skill or strategy. This sort of knowledge allows the person an opportunity to assign such resources when utilizing strategies. This will be further examined in Study 2.

Overall, this first study successfully produced a simple metacognition assessment using a 20-item instrument (survey questions) that was specific to ethical decision-making. The Confirmatory Factor Analysis, Study 2, was to confirm via testing the findings in MS on Study 1 and compare the relationship of MMS and the latent factors using a factor analysis. Doing so, another survey was administered; McMahon and Good had the items numbered and presented in a spreadsheet with columns, to the right of the items, labeled very strongly disagree, strongly disagree, somewhat disagree, somewhat agree, strongly agree, and very strongly agree. The students were to check the box that best represented their agreement with each item. No research is complete without the t-tests. The model was to include a no near-zero standard errors in which Good and McMahon had none. Secondly, t-values represent t-tests of the null hypothesis that the factor loading is equal to zero in the population.

Exploratory factor analysis in Study 1 identified four metacognition factors based on the data; these four factors are commonly recognized in the literature describing the metacognition construct. These factors were labeled as regulation of cognition, knowledge of cognition (declarative), knowledge of cognition (procedural), and knowledge of cognition (conditional). Identified by the Good and McMahon, were the 20 items that they felt best measured the aforementioned factors. An examination of the results of confirmatory factor analysis in Study 2 confirmed that the 20 MMS items indeed measure those four metacognition factors in the specific domain of ethical decision making.

The Purpose of Study 3, Convergent and Discriminant Validation, was to begin the validation process of the MMS by exploring both convergent and discriminant validity using existing measures related to cognitive moral development, mindful awareness, individual need for cognition, and ethical ideology. The results show that convergent validity of the MMS was supported by a significant relationship between the MMS and the N2 index from the DIT-2. This moderate relationship (r = .26, p < .05) implies a conceptual overlap between the variables, however it is small enough to deduce that they are not needless measures. It may be that individuals who are willing and able to cogitate about what guides the moral metacognition, the ethical decision-making, are more advanced in cognitive moral development. It could also be that those with a higher cognitive moral development allocate more resources to survey and administer the process of ethical decision-making.

The last portion of the study, Convergent, Discriminant, and Predictive Validation, was not only to further establish both the convergent and discriminant validity of the MMS, it was to also test the validity of the overall experiment. While also increasing the probability of the external validity of their findings, both the undergraduate students and non-undergraduate adults had to be surveyed. The procedure here was to develop an online survey using the Multidimensional Ethics Scale (MES), that is intended to measure ethical judgment, as well as the Moral Identity Scale (MIS), and the Moral Attentive Scale (MAS), which measure ethical awareness. These survey questions also included questions from McMahon and Good’s MMS. The studies presented by researchers Joan M. McMahon and Darren J. Good help demonstrate the existence and validity of moral metacognition, the extent to which an individual surveys and administers thinking in relation to ethical decision-making.

Scholars have long insisted that on this form of metacognition as a central component to moral learning and development. In particular, McMahon and Good have demonstrated through their research that the ethical decision making field of study has been deficient in recognizing the individual capacities needed to effectively process ethical dilemmas and that instruments need to be developed that extend generalized capacities to domain-specific capacities. Moral metacognition represents one of these critical capacities in need of development and validation. For this reason, they insist that primary contribution of their research is a reliable, valid, and easy-to-administer scale that measures moral metacognition, the MMS, a scale that enabled those to demonstrate that moral metacognition is closely linked with ethical awareness and judgment.

McMahone and Good state that results from their four part study suggest that the MMS is reliable and valid, and back their claims with significant and efficient experimentation and data . The data confirms four distinct factors labeled regulation of cognition, knowledge of cognition (declarative), knowledge of cognition (procedural) , and knowledge of cognition (conditional), which is Study 1. The four-factor model is conjecturally regular with the literature on metacognition and an existing measure of domain-general metacognition, the Metacognitive Awareness Inventory. Study 2 is based on the four factors and was upheld through confirmatory factor analysis. Convergent validity was then demonstrated in Studies 3 and 4, with a particularly important association shown between the MMS and the N2 index of the DIT-2 as stated by Rest et al. in 1999. The associations also included links with the Cacioppo’s Need for Cognition Scale, 1984, the reflective factor of the MAS, and the internalization and symbolization factors of the MIS.

Works Cited

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Metacognition on Moral Judgment, Learning, and Reasoning. (2021, Dec 27). Retrieved from

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