Metacognition and Reflection by Interdisciplinary Experts: Insights from Cognitive Science and Philosophy

Issues in Interdisciplinary Studies 35:121-169 (2017)
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Interdisciplinary understanding requires integration of insights from different perspectives, yet it appears questionable whether disciplinary experts are well prepared for this. Indeed, psychological and cognitive scientific studies suggest that expertise can be disadvantageous because experts are often more biased than non-experts, for example, or fixed on certain approaches, and less flexible in novel situations or situations outside their domain of expertise. An explanation is that experts’ conscious and unconscious cognition and behavior depend upon their learning and acquisition of a set of mental representations or knowledge structures. Compared to beginners in a field, experts have assembled a much larger set of representations that are also more complex, facilitating fast and adequate perception in responding to relevant situations. This article argues how metacognition should be employed in order to mitigate such disadvantages of expertise: By metacognitively monitoring and regulating their own cognitive processes and representations, experts can prepare themselves for interdisciplinary understanding. Interdisciplinary collaboration is further facilitated by team metacognition about the team, tasks, process, goals, and representations developed in the team. Drawing attention to the need for metacognition, the article explains how philosophical reflection on the assumptions involved in different disciplinary perspectives must also be considered in a process complementary to metacognition and not completely overlapping with it. (Disciplinary assumptions are here understood as determining and constraining how the complex mental representations of experts are chunked and structured.) The article concludes with a brief reflection on how the process of Reflective Equilibrium should be added to the processes of metacognition and philosophical reflection in order for experts involved in interdisciplinary collaboration to reach a justifiable and coherent form of interdisciplinary integration. An Appendix of “Prompts or Questions for Metacognition” that can elicit metacognitive knowledge, monitoring, or regulation in individuals or teams is included at the end of the article.

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Machiel Keestra
University of Amsterdam


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