The emergence of metacognition

affect and uncertainty in animals

Peter Carruthers, J. Brendan Ritchie

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter situates the dispute over the metacognitive capacities of non-human animals in the context of wider debates about the phylogeny of metarepresentational abilities. This chapter clarifies the nature of the dispute, before contrasting two different accounts of the evolution of metarepresentation. One is first-person-based, claiming that it emerged initially for purposes of metacognitive monitoring and control. The other is social in nature, claiming that metarepresentation evolved initially to monitor the mental states of others. These accounts make differing predictions about what we should expect to find in non-human animals: the former predicts that metacognitive capacities in creatures incapable of equivalent forms of mindreading should be found, whereas the latter predicts that they should not. The chapter elaborates and defend the latter form of account, drawing especially on what is known about decision-making and metacognition in humans. In doing so the chapter shows that so-called ‘uncertainty-monitoring’ data from monkeys can just as well be explained in non-metarepresentational affective terms, as might be predicted by the social-evolutionary account.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFoundations of metacognition
EditorsMichael J. Beran, Johannes L. Brandl, Joseph Perner, Joëlle Proust
Place of PublicationOxford
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages44
ISBN (Print)9780199646739
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • metacognition
  • uncertainty monitoring
  • phylogeny
  • comparative psychology
  • metarepresentation
  • mindreading
  • evolution
  • cognitive control
  • social cognition
  • decision making

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