Volume 5, Issue 1
  • ISSN 2589-1588
  • E-ISSN: 2589-1596
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While the term “metacognition” is sometimes used to refer to any form of thinking about thinking, in cognitive psychology, it is typically reserved for thinking about one’s own thinking, as opposed to thinking about others’ thinking. How metacognition in this more specific sense relates to other-directed mindreading is one of the main theoretical issues debated in the literature. This article considers the idea that we make use of the same or a largely similar package of resources in conceptually interpreting our own mind as we do in interpreting others’. I assume that a capacity for other-directed mindreading is minimally shared with our great-ape relatives, but I argue that the architecture of this system had to be substantially modified before it could efficiently and adaptively be turned inwards on one’s own mind. I contend that an important piece of the overall evolutionary explanation here likely concerns selection pressures arising from the domain of conversational interaction. Specifically, drawing on work carried out in the human interaction studies tradition (e.g., conversation analysis), I argue that the smooth to-and-fro of conversational interaction can be seen to heavily depend on metacommunicative capacities, which, in turn, are underpinned by metacognitive capacities. I conclude with a thumbnail sketch of an evolutionary account of the emergence of these metacognitive capacities in the human line. Their appearance and spread – whether via genes, cultural learning, or more likely, some combination of the two – helps to explain the transition from great-ape communication to human conversation.


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