One rich source of evidence for philosophers interested in concepts is the developmental literature. Indeed, some of the most theoretically sophisticated theorists of concepts are developmental psychologists. A natural extension of asking about the way adults turn their metacognitive capacities onto their own concepts is to ask how children’s metacognition impacts their use of concepts.
In a paper just published online in Review of Philosophy and Psychology, Joulia Smortchkova and I look at a particular version of this question. We are interested in stages in conceptual development, and in particular whether changes in children’s metacognitive capacities lie behind any conceptual transitions.
Metacognition has been richly studied in children, mostly in an educational context. However, most of these studies are at older ages than those in the classic findings in conceptual development. Younger children’s metacognition is usually taken to be poor. However recent research probing procedural metacognition in infants and young children has reconfigured the landscape. Younger children appear to monitor their own ignorance and accuracy, for example, and this monitoring feeds into the control of various forms of behaviour like looking and reaching, at least implicitly.
So it will be interesting to find out whether changes in metacognitive capacities, both procedural and analytic, in these younger age groups lie behind some of the radical changes that these children undergo in the structure of their concepts. We review the relatively small amount of evidence that exists on the issue, which gives tantalising hints of some potential links.
Smortchkova, J. and Shea, N. (forthcoming) ‘Metacognitive Development and Conceptual Change in Children’ Review of Philosophy and Psychology [pre-print pdf]