Winter 2001-02


Research Team Wins Major Grant

Prof. Asher Koriat, Israel Prize Winner-elect, Heads Minerva Center Study

Four researchers at the University’s Institute of Information Processing and Decision-Making have received a five-year research grant from Germany’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The grant, awarded by the German-Israel Project Cooperative program (known by its German acronym, DIP), is worth nearly three million German Marks (1˝ million dollars), half of it in matching grants. The project will be carried out under the aegis of the Max Wertheimer Minerva Center for Cognitive Processes and Human Performance at the University.

The grant will allow collaborative research between four cognitive psychologists at the University and teams of social psychologists at four German institutions. They will delve into “Metacognition: A Window to the Conscious and Unconscious Determinants of Behavior.”  DIP has awarded, in addition, about a half million Marks to the German participants in this endeavor.

The Haifa team consists of Prof. Asher Koriat, Dr. Morris Goldsmith, Dr. Ainat Pansky, and Dr. Ravit Levy-Sadot.  The last-named researcher formally received her doctorate from the University in the mid-December conferment ceremonies, and has already commenced post-doctoral work in connection with the project in Germany.  Funding for the project officially starts January 1, 2002.

      What is metacognition?  Why is it important?

The term refers to what people know about their own mental processes and how this affects the way they think and behave. People generally know that they know something. For example, even when we are unable to retrieve a name from memory, we sometimes feel that it is there and will be recalled soon. Often, however, people may have an illusion of knowing; we may express complete certainty in the correctness of a statement that ultimately proves to be wrong.

 

The study of metacognition may have important theoretical and practical implications. On the theoretical level, it is the belief of the Haifa team that metacognition serves as a go-between, linking automatic and unconscious processes to controlled and conscious processes.  It monitors one’s own knowledge, as it were.

On the practical level, metacognition bears on many real-life phenomena.

 

The legal system, for example, is concerned with questions about the extent to which the report of an eyewitness can be trusted and whether greater faith should be placed in the testimony of confident than of less confident eyewitnesses.

In the educational system, to take another example, it has become clear that an individual’s reading of his or her own level of knowledge or comprehension can be as important as the person’s actual knowledge or comprehension. A student who must choose two questions to answer from among five given in an examination has to be able to assess which two he/she can answer correctly or more completely. The student’s grade will ultimately depend, then, not only on cognition (or memory) but also on metacognition (or “metamemory”).

What are the processes that underlie the monitoring of one’s own knowledge? What are the causes of illusory knowledge or of inflated confidence? How can illusions of knowledge be remedied? How does subjective experience affect behavior? These are among the questions that the project will attempt to answer. 

 

 

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