Earlier today, I wrote a post titled Does Getting Better At Metacognition Physically Alter The Brain? In it, I described some interesting studies done on metacognition using MRI’s.

I contacted the author of the study with a question, Dr. Stephen Fleming, and he graciously responded very quickly. Here’s my email and his answer:


Dr. Fleming,

I’m a high school teacher in California, and write a blog with over 25,000 daily subscribers — mostly educators.

I’ve recently learned about your research on metacognition, and have posted on my blog about it.

Helping my students learn about the physical impact learning has on their brain has had an important impact on them. I saw that in your 2010 paper on metacognition, which I write about in my blog, you found that people with a greater metacognitive function had a greater developed prefrontal cortex, but you weren’t sure if that was because it had developed because of their practice of metacognition or if they were just born with it.

Since 2010, have you determined which it was? As I write in my post, it would be a great asset for teachers if we could help our students see that their brains actually change as they practice metacognition.

Larry Ferlazzo


Dear Larry,

Many thanks for your interest in our research, and for featuring our article on your blog.

Unfortunately we still do not know the answer to your question. There are two main challenges in carrying out this study. First, one would have to develop a reliable method for training metacognitive function in isolation of other changes in cognitive skill, such as decision-making, memory, etc. As yet I do not know of such a protocol, but would love to hear your ideas on this.

And second, longitudinal measures of brain structure and function would be required at different stages during the training. This is certainly feasible, but a caveat is that the field is still developing in its understanding of what different types of MRI measures mean for brain function. For example, we don’t know how the measure of structure we used in our paper (voxel-based morphometry) affects the functional properties of a particular brain region.

This would be a great study to carry out, and I would love to know the results!
In my own research, I am currently focussed on understanding the computations underlying metacognition at the individual level. Hopefully we can then use this knowledge to examine questions about differences between individuals.

Best wishes

So it looks like we’ll have to wait awhile for the answer….

Thanks to Dr. Fleming for his gracious response!