Metacognition in the Rat
Foote AL, Crystal JD.
Department of Psychology,
University of Georgia,
Athens, Georgia 30602.
Curr Biol. 2007 Mar 7;


The ability to reflect on one's own mental processes, termed metacognition, is a defining feature of human existence [1, 2]. Consequently, a fundamental question in comparative cognition is whether nonhuman animals have knowledge of their own cognitive states [3]. Recent evidence suggests that people and nonhuman primates [4-8] but not less "cognitively sophisticated" species [3, 9, 10] are capable of metacognition. Here, we demonstrate for the first time that rats are capable of metacognition-i.e., they know when they do not know the answer in a duration-discrimination test. Before taking the duration test, rats were given the opportunity to decline the test. On other trials, they were not given the option to decline the test. Accurate performance on the duration test yielded a large reward, whereas inaccurate performance resulted in no reward. Declining a test yielded a small but guaranteed reward. If rats possess knowledge regarding whether they know the answer to the test, they would be expected to decline most frequently on difficult tests and show lowest accuracy on difficult tests that cannot be declined [4]. Our data provide evidence for both predictions and suggest that a nonprimate has knowledge of its own cognitive state.

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