What is Metacognition?


Metacognition is an awareness of one’s thought processes and an understanding of the patterns behind them. The term comes from the root word meta, meaning “beyond”, or “on top of”. Metacognition can take many forms, such as reflecting on one’s ways of thinking and knowing when and how to use particular strategies for problem-solving. There are generally two components of metacognition:

  • Knowledge about cognition; and
  • Regulation of cognition.

Metamemory, defined as knowing about memory and mnemonic strategies, is an especially important form of metacognition. Academic research on metacognitive processing across cultures is in the early stages, but there are indications that further work may provide better outcomes in cross-cultural learning between teachers and students.

Writings on metacognition date back at least as far as two works by the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC): On the Soul and the Parva Naturalia.


This higher-level cognition was given the label metacognition by American developmental psychologist John H. Flavell (1976).

The term metacognition literally means ‘above cognition’, and is used to indicate cognition about cognition, or more informally, thinking about thinking. Flavell defined metacognition as knowledge about cognition and control of cognition. For example, a person is engaging in metacognition if they notice that they are having more trouble learning A than B, or if it strikes them that they should double-check C before accepting it as fact. J.H. Flavell (1976, p. 232). Andreas Demetriou’s theory (one of the neo-Piagetian theories of cognitive development) used the term hyper-cognition to refer to self-monitoring, self-representation, and self-regulation processes, which are regarded as integral components of the human mind. Moreover, with his colleagues, he showed that these processes participate in general intelligence, together with processing efficiency and reasoning, which have traditionally been considered to compose fluid intelligence.

Metacognition also involves thinking about one’s own thinking process such as study skills, memory capabilities, and the ability to monitor learning. This concept needs to be explicitly taught along with content instruction.

Metacognitive knowledge is about one’s own cognitive processes and the understanding of how to regulate those processes to maximize learning.

Some types of metacognitive knowledge would include:

Content Knowledge (Declarative Knowledge)Content knowledge (declarative knowledge) which is understanding one’s own capabilities, such as a student evaluating their own knowledge of a subject in a class. It is notable that not all metacognition is accurate. Studies have shown that students often mistake lack of effort with understanding in evaluating themselves and their overall knowledge of a concept.[10] Also, greater confidence in having performed well is associated with less accurate metacognitive judgment of the performance.
Task Knowledge (Procedural Knowledge)Task knowledge (procedural knowledge), which is how one perceives the difficulty of a task which is the content, length, and the type of assignment. The study mentioned in Content knowledge also deals with a person’s ability to evaluate the difficulty of a task related to their overall performance on the task. Again, the accuracy of this knowledge was skewed as students who thought their way was better/easier also seemed to perform worse on evaluations, while students who were rigorously and continually evaluated reported to not be as confident but still did better on initial evaluations.
Strategic Knowledge (Conditional Knowledge)Strategic knowledge (conditional knowledge) which is one’s own capability for using strategies to learn information. Young children are not particularly good at this; it is not until students are in upper elementary school that they begin to develop an understanding of effective strategies.

Metacognition is a general term encompassing the study of memory-monitoring and self-regulation, meta-reasoning, consciousness/awareness and autonoetic consciousness/self-awareness. In practice these capacities are used to regulate one’s own cognition, to maximise one’s potential to think, learn and to the evaluation of proper ethical/moral rules. It can also lead to a reduction in response time for a given situation as a result of heightened awareness, and potentially reduce the time to complete problems or tasks.

In the domain of experimental psychology, an influential distinction in metacognition (proposed by T.O. Nelson & L. Narens) is between Monitoring – making judgements about the strength of one’s memories – and Control – using those judgments to guide behaviour (in particular, to guide study choices). Dunlosky, Serra, and Baker (2007) covered this distinction in a review of metamemory research that focused on how findings from this domain can be applied to other areas of applied research.

In the domain of cognitive neuroscience, metacognitive monitoring and control has been viewed as a function of the prefrontal cortex, which receives (monitors) sensory signals from other cortical regions and implements control using feedback loops (see chapters by Schwartz & Bacon and Shimamura, in Dunlosky & Bjork, 2008).

Metacognition is studied in the domain of artificial intelligence and modelling. Therefore, it is the domain of interest of emergent systemics.


Metacognition is classified into three components:

  1. Metacognitive knowledge (also called metacognitive awareness) is what individuals know about themselves and others as cognitive processors.
  2. Metacognitive regulation is the regulation of cognition and learning experiences through a set of activities that help people control their learning.
  3. Metacognitive experiences are those experiences that have something to do with the current, on-going cognitive endeavour.

Metacognition refers to a level of thinking that involves active control over the process of thinking that is used in learning situations. Planning the way to approach a learning task, monitoring comprehension, and evaluating the progress towards the completion of a task: these are skills that are metacognitive in their nature.

Metacognition includes at least three different types of metacognitive awareness when considering metacognitive knowledge:

  1. Declarative knowledge: refers to knowledge about oneself as a learner and about what factors can influence one’s performance. Declarative knowledge can also be referred to as “world knowledge”.
  2. Procedural knowledge: refers to knowledge about doing things. This type of knowledge is displayed as heuristics and strategies. A high degree of procedural knowledge can allow individuals to perform tasks more automatically. This is achieved through a large variety of strategies that can be accessed more efficiently.
  3. Conditional knowledge: refers to knowing when and why to use declarative and procedural knowledge. It allows students to allocate their resources when using strategies. This in turn allows the strategies to become more effective.

Similar to metacognitive knowledge, metacognitive regulation or “regulation of cognition” contains three skills that are essential.

  1. Planning: refers to the appropriate selection of strategies and the correct allocation of resources that affect task performance.
  2. Monitoring: refers to one’s awareness of comprehension and task performance
  3. Evaluating: refers to appraising the final product of a task and the efficiency at which the task was performed. This can include re-evaluating strategies that were used.

Similarly, maintaining motivation to see a task to completion is also a metacognitive skill. The ability to become aware of distracting stimuli – both internal and external – and sustain effort over time also involves metacognitive or executive functions. The theory that metacognition has a critical role to play in successful learning means it is important that it be demonstrated by both students and teachers.

Students who underwent metacognitive training including pretesting, self evaluation, and creating study plans performed better on exams. They are self-regulated learners who utilise the “right tool for the job” and modify learning strategies and skills based on their awareness of effectiveness. Individuals with a high level of metacognitive knowledge and skill identify blocks to learning as early as possible and change “tools” or strategies to ensure goal attainment. Swanson (1990) found that metacognitive knowledge can compensate for IQ and lack of prior knowledge when comparing fifth and sixth grade students’ problem solving. Students with a high-metacognition were reported to have used fewer strategies, but solved problems more effectively than low-metacognition students, regardless of IQ or prior knowledge. In one study examining students who send text messages during college lectures, it was suggested that students with higher metacognitive abilities were less likely than other students to have their learning affected by using a mobile phone in class.

The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt. Bertrand Russell.

Metacognologists are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, the nature of the task at hand, and available “tools” or skills. A broader repertoire of “tools” also assists in goal attainment. When “tools” are general, generic, and context independent, they are more likely to be useful in different types of learning situations.

Another distinction in metacognition is executive management and strategic knowledge. Executive management processes involve planning, monitoring, evaluating and revising one’s own thinking processes and products. Strategic knowledge involves knowing what (factual or declarative knowledge), knowing when and why (conditional or contextual knowledge) and knowing how (procedural or methodological knowledge). Both executive management and strategic knowledge metacognition are needed to self-regulate one’s own thinking and learning.

Finally, there is no distinction between domain-general and domain-specific metacognitive skills. This means that metacognitive skills are domain-general in nature and there are no specific skills for certain subject areas. The metacognitive skills that are used to review an essay are the same as those that are used to verify an answer to a math question.

Social Metacognition

Although metacognition has thus far been discussed in relation to the self, recent research in the field has suggested that this view is overly restrictive. Instead, it is argued that metacognition research should also include beliefs about others’ mental processes, the influence of culture on those beliefs, and on beliefs about ourselves. This “expansionist view” proposes that it is impossible to fully understand metacognition without considering the situational norms and cultural expectations that influence those same conceptions. This combination of social psychology and metacognition is referred to as social metacognition.

Social metacognition can include ideas and perceptions that relate to social cognition. Additionally, social metacognition can include judging the cognition of others, such as judging the perceptions and emotional states of others. This is in part because the process of judging others is similar to judging the self. However, individuals have less information about the people they are judging; therefore, judging others tends to be more inaccurate. Having similar cognitions can buffer against this inaccuracy and can be helpful for teams or organisations, as well as interpersonal relationships.

Social Metacognition and the Self Concept

An example of the interaction between social metacognition and self-concept can be found in examining implicit theories about the self. Implicit theories can cover a wide range of constructs about how the self operates, but two are especially relevant here; entity theory and incrementalist theory. Entity theory proposes that an individual’s self-attributes and abilities are fixed and stable, while incrementalist theory proposes that these same constructs can be changed through effort and experience. Entity theorists are susceptible to learned helplessness because they may feel that circumstances are outside their control (i.e. there is nothing that could have been done to make things better), thus they may give up easily. Incremental theorists react differently when faced with failure: they desire to master challenges, and therefore adopt a mastery-oriented pattern. They immediately began to consider various ways that they could approach the task differently, and they increase their efforts. Cultural beliefs can act on this as well. For example, a person who has accepted a cultural belief that memory loss is an unavoidable consequence of old age may avoid cognitively demanding tasks as they age, thus accelerating cognitive decline. Similarly, a woman who is aware of the stereotype that purports that women are not good at mathematics may perform worse on tests of mathematical ability or avoid mathematics altogether. These examples demonstrate that the metacognitive beliefs people hold about the self – which may be socially or culturally transmitted – can have important effects on persistence, performance, and motivation.

Attitudes as a Function of Social Metacognition

The way that individuals think about attitude greatly affects the way that they behave. Metacognitions about attitudes influence how individuals act, and especially how they interact with others.

Some metacognitive characteristics of attitudes include importance, certainty, and perceived knowledge, and they influence behaviour in different ways. Attitude importance is the strongest predictor of behaviour and can predict information seeking behaviours in individuals. Attitude importance is also more likely to influence behaviour than certainty of the attitude. When considering a social behaviour like voting a person may hold high importance but low certainty. This means that they will likely vote, even if they are unsure whom to vote for. Meanwhile, a person who is very certain of who they want to vote for, may not actually vote if it is of low importance to them. This also applies to interpersonal relationships. A person might hold a lot of favourable knowledge about their family, but they may not maintain close relations with their family if it is of low importance.

Metacognitive characteristics of attitudes may be key to understanding how attitudes change. Research shows that the frequency of positive or negative thoughts is the biggest factor in attitude change. A person may believe that climate change is occurring but have negative thoughts toward it such as “If I accept the responsibilities of climate change, I must change my lifestyle”. These individuals would not likely change their behaviour compared to someone that thinks positively about the same issue such as “By using less electricity, I will be helping the planet”.

Another way to increase the likelihood of behaviour change is by influencing the source of the attitude. An individual’s personal thoughts and ideas have a much greater impact on the attitude compared to ideas of others. Therefore, when people view lifestyle changes as coming from themselves, the effects are more powerful than if the changes were coming from a friend or family member. These thoughts can be re-framed in a way that emphasizes personal importance, such as “I want to stop smoking because it is important to me” rather than “quitting smoking is important to my family”. More research needs to be conducted on culture differences and importance of group ideology, which may alter these results.

Social Metacognition and Stereotypes

People have secondary cognitions about the appropriateness, justifiability, and social judgability of their own stereotypic beliefs. People know that it is typically unacceptable to make stereotypical judgments and make conscious efforts not to do so. Subtle social cues can influence these conscious efforts. For example, when given a false sense of confidence about their ability to judge others, people will return to relying on social stereotypes. Cultural backgrounds influence social metacognitive assumptions, including stereotypes. For example, cultures without the stereotype that memory declines with old age display no age differences in memory performance.

When it comes to making judgements about other people, implicit theories about the stability versus malleability of human characteristics predict differences in social stereotyping as well. Holding an entity theory of traits increases the tendency for people to see similarity among group members and utilise stereotyped judgments. For example, compared to those holding incremental beliefs, people who hold entity beliefs of traits use more stereotypical trait judgements of ethnic and occupational groups as well as form more extreme trait judgments of new groups. When an individual’s assumptions about a group combine with their implicit theories, more stereotypical judgements may be formed. Stereotypes that one believes others hold about them are called metastereotypes.

Animal Metacognition

In Nonhuman Primates


Beran, Smith, and Perdue (2013) found that chimpanzees showed metacognitive monitoring in the information-seeking task. In their studies, three language-trained chimpanzees were asked to use the keyboard to name the food item in order to get the food. The food in the container was either visible to them or they had to move toward the container to see its contents. Studies shown that chimpanzees were more often to check what was in the container first if the food in the container was hidden. But when the food was visible to them, the chimpanzees were more likely to directly approach the keyboard and reported the identity of the food without looking again in the container. Their results suggested that chimpanzees know what they have seen and show effective information-seeking behaviour when information is incomplete.

Rhesus Macaques (Macaca Mulatta)

Morgan et al. (2014) investigated whether rhesus macaques can make both retrospective and prospective metacognitive judgements on the same memory task. Risk choices were introduced to assess the monkey’s confidence about their memories. Two male rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) were trained in a computerised token economy task first in which they can accumulate tokens to exchange food rewards. Monkeys were presented with multiple images of common objects simultaneously and then a moving border appearing on the screen indicating the target. Immediately following the presentation, the target images and some distractors were shown in the test. During the training phase, monkeys received immediate feedback after they made responses. They can earn two tokens if they make correct choices but lost two tokens if they were wrong.

In Experiment 1, the confidence rating was introduced after they completed their responses in order to test the retrospective metamemory judgements. After each response, a high-risk and a low-risk choice were provided to the monkeys. They could earn one token regardless of their accuracy if they choose the low-risk option. When they chose high-risk, they were rewarded with three tokens if their memory response was correct on that trial but lost three tokens if they made incorrect responses. Morgan and colleagues (2014) found a significant positive correlation between memory accuracy and risk choice in two rhesus monkeys. That is, they were more likely to select the high-risk option if they answered correctly in the working memory task but select the low-risk option if they were failed in the memory task.

Then Morgan et al. (2014) examine monkeys’ prospective metacognitive monitoring skills in Experiment 2. This study employed the same design except that two monkeys were asked to make low-risk or high-risk confidence judgement before they make actual responses to measure their judgements about future events. Similarly, the monkeys were more often to choose high-risk confidence judgment before answering correctly in working memory task and tended to choose the low-risk option before providing an incorrect response. These two studies indicated that rhesus monkeys can accurately monitor their performance and provided evidence of metacognitive abilities in monkeys.

In Rats

In addition to nonhuman primates, other animals are also shown metacognition. Foote and Crystal (2007) provided the first evidence that rats have the knowledge of what they know in a perceptual discrimination task. Rats were required to classify brief noises as short or long. Some noises with intermediate durations were difficult to discriminate as short or long. Rats were provided with an option to decline to take the test on some trials but were forced to make responses on other trials. If they chose to take the test and respond correctly, they would receive a high reward but no reward if their classification of noises was incorrect. But if the rats decline to take the test, they would be guaranteed a smaller reward. The results showed that rats were more likely to decline to take the test when the difficulty of noise discrimination increased, suggesting rats knew they do not have the correct answers and declined to take the test to receive the reward. Another finding is that the performance was better when they had chosen to take the test compared with if the rats were forced to make responses, proving that some uncertain trials were declined to improve the accuracy.

These responses pattern might be attributed to actively monitor their own mental states. Alternatively, external cues such as environmental cue associations could be used to explain their behaviours in the discrimination task. Rats might have learned the association between intermediate stimuli and the decline option over time. Longer response latencies or some features inherent to stimuli can serve as discriminative cues to decline tests. Therefore, Templer, Lee, and Preston (2017) utilised an olfactory-based delayed match to sample (DMTS) memory task to assess whether rats were capable of metacognitive responding adaptively. Rats were exposed to sample odour first and chose to either decline or take the four-choice memory test after a delay. The correct choices of odour were associated with high reward and incorrect choices have no reward. The decline options were accompanied by a small reward.

In experiment 2, some “no-sample” trials were added in the memory test in which no odour was provided before the test. They hypothesized that rats would decline more often when there was no sample odour presented compared with odour presented if rats could internally assess the memory strength. Alternatively, if the decline option was motivated by external environmental cues, the rats would be less likely to decline the test because no available external cues were presented. The results showed that rats were more likely to decline the test in no-sample trials relative to normal sample trials, supporting the notion that rats can track their internal memory strength.

To rule out other potential possibilities, they also manipulated memory strength by providing the sampled odour twice and varying the retention interval between the learning and the test. Templer and colleagues (2017) found rats were less likely to decline the test if they had been exposed to the sample twice, suggesting that their memory strength for these samples was increased. Longer delayed sample test was more often declined than short delayed test because their memory was better after the short delay. Overall, their series of studies demonstrated that rats could distinguish between remembering and forgetting and rule out the possibilities that decline use was modulated by the external cues such as environmental cue associations.

In Pigeons

Research on metacognition of pigeons has shown limited success. Inman and Shettleworth (1999) employed the delayed match to sample (DMTS) procedure to test pigeons’ metacognition. Pigeons were presented with one of three sample shapes (a triangle, a square, or a star) and then they were required to peck the matched sample when three stimuli simultaneously appeared on the screen at the end of the retention interval. A safe key was also presented in some trials next to three sample stimuli which allow them to decline that trial. Pigeons received a high reward for pecking correct stimuli, a middle-level reward for pecking the safe key, and nothing if they pecked the wrong stimuli. Inman and Shettleworth’s (1999) first experiment found that pigeons’ accuracies were lower and they were more likely to choose the safe key as the retention interval between presentation of stimuli and test increased. However, in Experiment 2, when pigeons were presented with the option to escape or take the test before the test phase, there was no relationship between choosing the safe key and longer retention interval. Adams and Santi (2011) also employed the DMTS procedure in a perceptual discrimination task during which pigeons were trained to discriminate between durations of illumination. Pigeons did not choose the escape option more often as the retention interval increased during initial testing. After extended training, they learned to escape the difficult trials. However, these patterns might be attributed to the possibility that pigeons learned the association between escape responses and longer retention delay.

In addition to DMTS paradigm, Castro and Wasserman (2013) proved that pigeons can exhibit adaptive and efficient information-seeking behaviour in the same-different discrimination task. Two arrays of items were presented simultaneously in which the two sets of items were either identical or different from one another. Pigeons were required to distinguish between the two arrays of items in which the level of difficulty was varied. Pigeons were provided with an “Information” button and a “Go” button on some trials that they could increase the number of items in the arrays to make the discrimination easier or they can prompt to make responses by pecking the Go button. Castro and Wasserman found that the more difficult the task, the more often pigeons chose the information button to solve the discrimination task. This behavioural pattern indicated that pigeons could evaluate the difficulty of the task internally and actively search for information when is necessary.

In Dogs

Dogs have shown a certain level of metacognition that they are sensitive to information they have acquired or not. Belger & Bräuer (2018) examined whether dogs could seek additional information when facing uncertain situations. The experimenter put the reward behind one of the two fences in which dogs can see or cannot see where the reward was hidden. After that, dogs were encouraged to find the reward by walking around one fence. The dogs checked more frequently before selecting the fence when they did not see the baiting process compared with when they saw where the reward was hidden. However, contrary to apes, dogs did not show more checking behaviours when the delay between baiting the reward and selecting the fence was longer. Their findings suggested that dogs have some aspect of information-searching behaviours but less flexibly compared to apes.

In Dolphins

Smith et al. (1995) evaluated whether dolphins have the ability of metacognitive monitoring in an auditory threshold paradigm. A bottlenosed dolphin was trained to discriminate between high-frequency tones and low-frequency tones. An escape option was available on some trials associated with a small reward. Their studies showed that dolphins could appropriately use the uncertain response when the trials were difficult to discriminate.


There is consensus that nonhuman primates, especially great apes and rhesus monkeys, exhibit metacognitive control and monitoring behaviours. But less convergent evidence was found in other animals such as rats and pigeons. Some researchers criticised these methods and posited that these performances might be accounted for by low-level conditioning mechanisms. Animals learned the association between reward and external stimuli through simple reinforcement models. However, many studies have demonstrated that the reinforcement model alone cannot explain animals’ behavioural patterns. Animals have shown adaptive metacognitive behaviour even with the absence of concrete reward.


Metacognitive-like processes are especially ubiquitous when it comes to the discussion of self-regulated learning. Self-regulation requires metacognition by looking at one’s awareness of their learning and planning further learning methodology. Attentive metacognition is a salient feature of good self-regulated learners, but does not guarantee automatic application. Reinforcing collective discussion of metacognition is a salient feature of self-critical and self-regulating social groups. The activities of strategy selection and application include those concerned with an ongoing attempt to plan, check, monitor, select, revise, evaluate, etc.

Metacognition is ‘stable’ in that learners’ initial decisions derive from the pertinent facts about their cognition through years of learning experience. Simultaneously, it is also ‘situated’ in the sense that it depends on learners’ familiarity with the task, motivation, emotion, and so forth. Individuals need to regulate their thoughts about the strategy they are using and adjust it based on the situation to which the strategy is being applied. At a professional level, this has led to emphasis on the development of reflective practice, particularly in the education and health-care professions.

Recently, the notion has been applied to the study of second language learners in the field of TESOL and applied linguistics in general (e.g. Wenden, 1987; Zhang, 2001, 2010). This new development has been much related to Flavell (1979), where the notion of metacognition is elaborated within a tripartite theoretical framework. Learner metacognition is defined and investigated by examining their person knowledge, task knowledge and strategy knowledge.

Wenden (1991) has proposed and used this framework and Zhang (2001) has adopted this approach and investigated second language learners’ metacognition or metacognitive knowledge. In addition to exploring the relationships between learner metacognition and performance, researchers are also interested in the effects of metacognitively-oriented strategic instruction on reading comprehension (e.g. Garner, 1994, in first language contexts, and Chamot, 2005; Zhang, 2010). The efforts are aimed at developing learner autonomy, interdependence and self-regulation.

Metacognition helps people to perform many cognitive tasks more effectively. Strategies for promoting metacognition include self-questioning (e.g. “What do I already know about this topic? How have I solved problems like this before?”), thinking aloud while performing a task, and making graphic representations (e.g. concept maps, flow charts, semantic webs) of one’s thoughts and knowledge. Carr, 2002, argues that the physical act of writing plays a large part in the development of metacognitive skills.

Strategy Evaluation matrices (SEM) can help to improve the knowledge of cognition component of metacognition. The SEM works by identifying the declarative (Column 1), procedural (Column 2) and conditional (Column 3 and 4) knowledge about specific strategies. The SEM can help individuals identify the strength and weaknesses about certain strategies as well as introduce them to new strategies that they can add to their repertoire.

A regulation checklist (RC) is a useful strategy for improving the regulation of cognition aspect of one’s metacognition. RCs help individuals to implement a sequence of thoughts that allow them to go over their own metacognition. King (1991) found that fifth-grade students who used a regulation checklist outperformed control students when looking at a variety of questions including written problem solving, asking strategic questions, and elaborating information.

Examples of strategies that can be taught to students are word analysis skills, active reading strategies, listening skills, organisational skills and creating mnemonic devices.

Walker and Walker have developed a model of metacognition in school learning termed Steering Cognition, which describes the capacity of the mind to exert conscious control over its reasoning and processing strategies in relation to the external learning task. Studies have shown that pupils with an ability to exert metacognitive regulation over their attentional and reasoning strategies used when engaged in maths, and then shift those strategies when engaged in science or then English literature learning, associate with higher academic outcomes at secondary school.

Metastrategic Knowledge

“Metastrategic knowledge” (MSK) is a sub-component of metacognition that is defined as general knowledge about higher order thinking strategies. MSK had been defined as “general knowledge about the cognitive procedures that are being manipulated”. The knowledge involved in MSK consists of “making generalizations and drawing rules regarding a thinking strategy” and of “naming” the thinking strategy.

The important conscious act of a metastrategic strategy is the “conscious” awareness that one is performing a form of higher order thinking. MSK is an awareness of the type of thinking strategies being used in specific instances and it consists of the following abilities:

  • Making generalisations and drawing rules regarding a thinking strategy;
  • Naming the thinking strategy,
  • Explaining when, why and how such a thinking strategy should be used;
  • When it should not be used;
  • What are the disadvantages of not using appropriate strategies; and
  • What task characteristics call for the use of the strategy.

MSK deals with the broader picture of the conceptual problem. It creates rules to describe and understand the physical world around the people who utilise these processes called higher-order thinking. This is the capability of the individual to take apart complex problems in order to understand the components in problem. These are the building blocks to understanding the “big picture” (of the main problem) through reflection and problem solving.


Both social and cognitive dimensions of sporting expertise can be adequately explained from a metacognitive perspective according to recent research. The potential of metacognitive inferences and domain-general skills including psychological skills training are integral to the genesis of expert performance. Moreover, the contribution of both mental imagery (e.g. mental practice) and attentional strategies (e.g. routines) to our understanding of expertise and metacognition is noteworthy. The potential of metacognition to illuminate our understanding of action was first highlighted by Aidan Moran who discussed the role of meta-attention in 1996. A recent research initiative, a research seminar series called META funded by the BPS, is exploring the role of the related constructs of meta-motivation, meta-emotion, and thinking and action (metacognition).

Mental Illness

Sparks of Interest

In the context of mental health, metacognition can be loosely defined as the process that “reinforces one’s subjective sense of being a self and allows for becoming aware that some of one’s thoughts and feelings are symptoms of an illness”. The interest in metacognition emerged from a concern for an individual’s ability to understand their own mental status compared to others as well as the ability to cope with the source of their distress. These insights into an individual’s mental health status can have a profound effect on overall prognosis and recovery. Metacognition brings many unique insights into the normal daily functioning of a human being. It also demonstrates that a lack of these insights compromises ‘normal’ functioning. This leads to less healthy functioning. In the autism spectrum, it is speculated that there is a profound deficit in Theory of Mind. In people who identify as alcoholics, there is a belief that the need to control cognition is an independent predictor of alcohol use over anxiety. Alcohol may be used as a coping strategy for controlling unwanted thoughts and emotions formed by negative perceptions. This is sometimes referred to as self medication.


Adrian Wells’ and Gerald Matthews’ theory proposes that when faced with an undesired choice, an individual can operate in two distinct modes: “object” and “metacognitive”. Object mode interprets perceived stimuli as truth, where metacognitive mode understands thoughts as cues that have to be weighted and evaluated. They are not as easily trusted. There are targeted interventions unique of each patient, that gives rise to the belief that assistance in increasing metacognition in people diagnosed with schizophrenia is possible through tailored psychotherapy. With a customised therapy in place clients then have the potential to develop greater ability to engage in complex self-reflection. This can ultimately be pivotal in the patient’s recovery process. In the obsessive-compulsive spectrum, cognitive formulations have greater attention to intrusive thoughts related to the disorder. “Cognitive self-consciousness” are the tendencies to focus attention on thought. Patients with OCD exemplify varying degrees of these “intrusive thoughts”. Patients also with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) also show negative thought process in their cognition.

Cognitive-attentional syndrome (CAS) characterises a metacognitive model of emotion disorder (CAS is consistent with the attention strategy of excessively focusing on the source of a threat). This ultimately develops through the client’s own beliefs. Metacognitive therapy attempts to correct this change in the CAS. One of the techniques in this model is called attention training (ATT). It was designed to diminish the worry and anxiety by a sense of control and cognitive awareness. ATT also trains clients to detect threats and test how controllable reality appears to be.

Following the work of Asher Koriat, who regards confidence as central aspect of metacognition, metacognitive training for psychosis aims at decreasing overconfidence in patients with schizophrenia and raising awareness of cognitive biases. According to a meta-analysis, this type of intervention improves delusions and hallucinations.

Works of Art as Metacognitive Artefacts

The concept of metacognition has also been applied to reader-response criticism. Narrative works of art, including novels, movies and musical compositions, can be characterised as metacognitive artefacts which are designed by the artist to anticipate and regulate the beliefs and cognitive processes of the recipient, for instance, how and in which order events and their causes and identities are revealed to the reader of a detective story. As Menakhem Perry has pointed out, mere order has profound effects on the aesthetical meaning of a text. Narrative works of art contain a representation of their own ideal reception process. They are something of a tool with which the creators of the work wish to attain certain aesthetical and even moral effects.

Mind Wandering

There is an intimate, dynamic interplay between mind wandering and metacognition. Metacognition serves to correct the wandering mind, suppressing spontaneous thoughts and bringing attention back to more “worthwhile” tasks.

Organisational Metacognition

The concept of metacognition has also been applied to collective teams and organisations in general, termed organisational metacognition.

  • Educational psychology: Branch of psychology concerned with the scientific study of human learning.
  • Educational technology: Use of technology in education to improve learning and teaching.
  • Epistemology: Branch of philosophy concerning knowledge.
  • Goal orientation.
  • Introspection: Examining one’s own thoughts and feelings.
  • Learning styles: Largely debunked theories that aim to account for differences in individuals’ learning.
  • Meta-emotion.
  • Metaknowledge.
  • Metaphilosophy: Philosophy of philosophy.
  • Münchhausen trilemma: A thought experiment used to demonstrate the impossibility of proving any truth.
  • Metatheory: Theory whose subject matter is itself a theory.
  • Mentalisation.
  • Mindstream: Buddhist concept of continuity of mind.
  • Mirror test: Animal self-awareness test to determine self-recognition in a mirror.
  • Phenomenology (philosophy): Philosophical method and schools of philosophy.
  • Phenomenology (psychology): Psychological study of subjective experience.
  • Psychological effects of Internet use.
  • Second-order cybernetics: Recursive application of cybernetics to itself and the reflexive practice of cybernetics according to this critique.

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What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?


Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), occasionally still called dysmorphophobia, is a mental disorder characterized by the obsessive idea that some aspect of one’s own body part or appearance is severely flawed and therefore warrants exceptional measures to hide or fix it.

A cartoon of a patient with body dysmorphia looking in a mirror, seeing a distorted image of himself.

In BDD’s delusional variant, the flaw is imagined. If the flaw is actual, its importance is severely exaggerated. Either way, thoughts about it are pervasive and intrusive, and may occupy several hours a day, causing severe distress and impairing one’s otherwise normal activities. BDD is classified as a somatoform disorder, and the DSM-5 categorises BDD in the obsessive-compulsive spectrum, and distinguishes it from anorexia nervosa.

BDD is estimated to affect from 0.7% to 2.4% of the population. It usually starts during adolescence and affects both men and women. The BDD subtype muscle dysmorphia, perceiving the body as too small, affects mostly males. Besides thinking about it, one repetitively checks and compares the perceived flaw, and can adopt unusual routines to avoid social contact that exposes it. Fearing the stigma of vanity, one usually hides the preoccupation. Commonly unsuspected even by psychiatrists, BDD has been underdiagnosed. Severely impairing quality of life via educational and occupational dysfunction and social isolation, BDD has high rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts at suicide.

Brief History

In 1886, Enrico Morselli reported a disorder that he termed dysmorphophobia, which described the disorder as a feeling of being ugly even though there does not appear to be anything wrong with the person’s appearance. In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association recognised the disorder, while categorising it as an atypical somatoform disorder, in the third edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Classifying it as a distinct somatoform disorder, the DSM-III’s 1987 revision switched the term to body dysmorphic disorder.

Published in 1994, DSM-IV defines BDD as a preoccupation with an imagined or trivial defect in appearance, a preoccupation causing social or occupational dysfunction, and not better explained as another disorder, such as anorexia nervosa. Published in 2013, the DSM-5 shifts BDD to a new category (obsessive-compulsive spectrum), adds operational criteria (such as repetitive behaviours or intrusive thoughts), and notes the subtype muscle dysmorphia (preoccupation that one’s body is too small or insufficiently muscular or lean).

Signs and Symptoms

Dislike of one’s appearance is common, but individuals who suffer from BDD have extreme misperceptions about their physical appearance. Whereas vanity involves a quest to aggrandise the appearance, BDD is experienced as a quest to normalise the appearance merely. Although delusional in about one of three cases, the appearance concern is usually non-delusional, an overvalued idea.

The bodily area of focus can be nearly any and is commonly face, hair, and skin. In addition, multiple areas can be focused on simultaneously. A subtype of body dysmorphic disorder is bigorexia (anorexia reverse or muscle dysphoria). In muscular dysphoria, patients perceive their body as excessively thin despite being muscular and trained. Many seek dermatological treatment or cosmetic surgery, which typically do not resolve the distress. On the other hand, attempts at self-treatment, as by skin picking, can create lesions where none previously existed.

BDD is an obsessive-compulsive disorder but involves more depression and social avoidance despite DOC. BDD often associates with social anxiety disorder. Some experience delusions that others are covertly pointing out their flaws. Cognitive testing and neuroimaging suggest both a bias toward detailed visual analysis and a tendency toward emotional hyper-arousal.

Most generally, one experiencing BDD ruminates over the perceived bodily defect several hours daily or longer, uses either social avoidance or camouflaging with cosmetics or apparel, repetitively checks the appearance, compares it to that of other people, and might often seek verbal reassurances. One might sometimes avoid mirrors, repetitively change outfits, groom excessively, or restrict eating.

BDD’s severity can wax and wane, and flareups tend to yield absences from school, work, or socializing, sometimes leading to protracted social isolation, with some becoming housebound for extended periods. Social impairment is usually greatest, sometimes approaching avoidance of all social activities. Poor concentration and motivation impair academic and occupational performance. The distress of BDD tends to exceed that of either major depressive disorder or diabetes, and rates of suicidal ideation and attempts are especially high.

Causal Factors

As with most mental disorders, BDD’s cause is likely intricate, altogether biopsychosocial, through an interaction of multiple factors, including genetic, developmental, psychological, social, and cultural. BDD usually develops during early adolescence, although many patients note earlier trauma, abuse, neglect, teasing, or bullying. In many cases, social anxiety earlier in life precedes BDD. Though twin studies on BDD are few, one estimated its heritability at 43%. Yet other factors may be introversion, negative body image, perfectionism, heightened aesthetic sensitivity, and childhood abuse and neglect.

Social Media

Constant use of social media and “selfie taking” may translate into low self-esteem and body dysmorphic tendencies. The sociocultural theory of self-esteem states that the messages given by media and peers about the importance of appearance are internalised by individuals who adopt others’ standards of beauty as their own. Due to excessive social media use and selfie taking, individuals may become preoccupied about presenting an ideal photograph for the public. Specifically, females’ mental health has been the most affected by persistent exposure to social media. Girls with BDD present symptoms of low self-esteem and negative self-evaluation. Researchers in Istanbul Bilgi University and Bogazici University in Turkey found that individuals who have low self-esteem participate more often in trends of taking selfies along with using social media to mediate their interpersonal interaction in order to fulfil their self-esteem needs. The self-verification theory, explains how individuals use selfies to gain verification from others through likes and comments. Social media may therefore trigger one’s misconception about their physical look. Similar to those with body dysmorphic tendencies, such behaviour may lead to constant seeking of approval, self-evaluation and even depression.

In 2019 systematic review using Web of Science, PsycINFO, and PubMed databases was used to identify social networking site patterns. In particular appearance focused social media use was found to be significantly associated with greater body image dissatisfaction. It is highlighted that comparisons appear between body image dissatisfaction and BDD symptomatology. They concluded that heavy social media use may mediate the onset of sub-threshold BDD.

Individuals with BDD tend to engage in heavy plastic surgery use. Mayank Vats from Rashid Hospital in the UAE, indicated that selfies may be the reason why young people seek plastic surgery with a 10% increase in nose jobs, a 7% increase in hair transplants and a 6% increase in eyelid surgery in 2013. In 2018, the term “Snapchat Dysmorphia” was brought to life after several plastic surgeons reported that some of their patients were seeking plastic surgeries to mimic “filtered” pictures. Filtered photos, such as those on Instagram and Snapchat, often present unrealistic and unattainable looks that may be a causal factor in triggering BDD.


Estimates of prevalence and gender distribution have varied widely via discrepancies in diagnosis and reporting. In American psychiatry, BDD gained diagnostic criteria in the DSM-IV, having been historically unrecognised, only making its first appearance in the DSM in 1987, but clinicians’ knowledge of it, especially among general practitioners, is constricted. Meanwhile, shame about having the bodily concern, and fear of the stigma of vanity, makes many hide even having the concern.

Via shared symptoms, BDD is commonly misdiagnosed as social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, major depressive disorder, or social phobia. Social anxiety disorder and BDD are highly comorbid (within those with BDD, 12-68.8% also have SAD; within those with SAD, 4.8-12% also have BDD), developing similarly in patients -BDD is even classified as a subset of SAD by some researchers. Correct diagnosis can depend on specialized questioning and correlation with emotional distress or social dysfunction. Estimates place the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Questionnaire’s sensitivity at 100% (0% false negatives) and specificity at 92.5% (7.5% false positives). BDD is also comorbid with eating disorders, up to 12% comorbidity in one study. Both eating and body dysmorphic disorders are concerned with physical appearance, but eating disorders tend to focus more on weight rather than one’s general appearance.

BDD is classified as an obsessive-compulsive disorder in DSM-5. It is important to treat people suffering from BDD as soon as possible because the person may have already been suffering for an extended period of time and as BDD has a high suicide rate, at 2-12 times higher than the national average.


Medication and Psychotherapy

Antidepressant medication, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) are considered effective. SSRIs can help relieve obsessive-compulsive and delusional traits, while CBT can help patients recognise faulty thought patterns. Before treatment, it can help to provide psychoeducation, as with self-help books and support websites.


For many people with BDD cosmetic surgery does not work to alleviate the symptoms of BDD as their opinion of their appearance is not grounded in reality. It is recommended that cosmetic surgeons and psychiatrists work together in order to screen surgery patients to see if they suffer from BDD, as the results of the surgery could be harmful for them.

An Overview of the Biology of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder


The biology of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) refers biologically based theories about the mechanism of OCD.

Cognitive models generally fall into the category of executive dysfunction or modulatory control. Neuroanatomically, functional and structural neuroimaging studies implicate the prefrontal cortex (PFC), basal ganglia (BG), insula, and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). Genetic and neurochemical studies implicate glutamate and monoamine neurotransmitters, especially serotonin and dopamine.

Refer to Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum.



The cortico-basal ganglia-thalamo-cortical loop (CBGTC) model is based on the observation that the basal ganglia loops related to the OFC and ACC are implicated in OCD by neuroimaging studies, although the directionality of volumetric and functional changes is not consistent. Causal evidence from OCD secondary to neuropsychiatric disorders supports the CBGTC model. Obsessions may arise from failure of the circuit to gate information that is normally implicitly processed, leading to representation in explicit processing systems such as the dlPFC and hippocampus, and thereby resulting in obsessions.

Abnormal affect in OCD has been hypothesized to result from dysfunction in the OFC, ventral striatum, and amygdala. OCD is characterised by high levels of anxiety, high rates of comorbidity with major depressive disorder, and blunted response to reward. This is reflected by reduced amygdala and ventral striatum response to positive stimuli, and elevated amygdala response to fearful stimuli. Furthermore, deep brain stimulation of the nucleus accumbens is an effective treatment of OCD, and symptom improvement correlates with reduced binding of dopamine receptors. The reduced binding, due to the ability of the radioligand tracers to be displaced by endogenous dopamine, is taken to reflect increased basal dopamine release. Affective dysregulation due to blunted reward, and elevated fear sensitivity may promote compulsivity by assigning excessive motivational salience to avoidance behaviour.

The ventral striatum is important in action selection, and receives inputs from the medial OFC that signal various aspects of value for stimulus association outcomes. By assigning abnormal values to certain behaviours, OFC may lead to compulsive behaviour through modulating action selection in the ventral striatum. A number of abnormalities have been found in the OFC, including reduced volume, increased resting state activity, and reduced activity during cognitive tasks. The difference between resting and cognitive paradigms may be due to increased signal to noise ratio, a possible mechanism of aberrant valuation. OFC-striatum connectivity also predicts symptom severity, although the opposite has been found in some studies.

Besides abnormal valuation of stimuli or tasks, compulsions may be driven by dysfunction in error monitoring that leads to excessive uncertainty.

OCD has also been conceptualised as resulting from dysfunction in response inhibition, and fear extinction. While hyperactivation of the OFC as a whole during resting is observed in OCD, hyperactivation of the lateral OFC and hypoactivation of the mOFC is seen. This is congruent with the localization of fear/avoidance behaviours to the lOFC and emotional regulation to the mOFC. Hyperactivity of the dACC during monitoring task, along with hyperactivity of the lOFC and amygadala may all contribute to generating obsessions, reduced regulation by the mOFC may enable them.

One model suggests that obsessions do not drive compulsions, but are rather byproducts of compulsions, as evidenced by some studies reporting excessive reliance on habit. Dysfunctional habit based learning may be a driver behind neuroimaging studies of memory reporting increased hippocampus activity. The conscious processing of information that is normally implicitly processing may be the underlying cause of obsessions.

Functional Neuroimaging

Functional neuroimaging studies have implicated multiple regions in OCD. Symptom provocation is associated with increased likelihood of activation in the bilateral orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), right anterior PFC, left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), bilateral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), left precuneus, right premotor cortex, left superior temporal gyrus (STG), bilateral external globus pallidus, left hippocampus, right insula, left caudate, right posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), and right superior parietal lobule. The medial portion of the orbitofrontal cortex connects with the paralimbic-limbic system, including the insular cortex, cingulate gryus, amygdala, and hypothalamus. This area is involved in encoding the representation of the value of an expected outcome, which is used to anticipate positive and negative consequences that are likely to follow a given action. During affective tasks hyperactivation has been observed in the ACC, insula and head of the caudate and putamen, regions implicated in salience, arousal, and habit. Hypoactivation during affective tasks is observed in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and posterior caudate, which are implicated in behavioural and cognitive control. During non-affective tasks, hyperactivation has been observed in the precuneus and PCC, while hypoactivation has been observed in the pallidum, ventral anterior thalamus and posterior caudate. An older meta analysis found hyperactivity in the OFC and ACC. An ALE meta analysis of various functional neuroimaging paradigms observed various abnormalities during Go/no go, interference, and task switching paradigms. Decreased likelihood of activation in right putamen and cerebellum was reported during Go/no go. During interference tasks, likelihood of activation was reported in the left superior frontal gyrus, right precentral gyrus, and left cingulate gyrus, to be decreased, and in the right caudate to be increased. Task switching was associated with extensive decreased likelihood of activation in the middle, medial, inferior, superior frontal gyri, caudate, cingulate and precuneus. A separate ALE meta analysis found consistent abnormalities in orbitofrontal, striatal, lateral frontal, anterior cingulate, middle occipital and parietal, and cerebellar regions.

Structural Neuroimaging

Differences in grey matter, white matter and structural connectivity have been observed in OCD. One meta-analysis reported grey matter increases in the bilateral lenticular nuclei, and grey matter decreases in the ACC (anterior cingulate cortex) and mPFC (medial prefrontal cortex).[14] Another meta-analysis reported that global volumes are not decreased, but the left ACC and OFC demonstrate decreased volume, while the thalamus but not basal ganglia have increased volumes. An ALE meta analysis found increased grey matter in the left postcentral gyrus, middle frontal region, putamen, thalamus, left ACC, and culmen, while decreased grey matter was reported in the right temporal gyrus and left insula extending to the inferior frontal gyrus.

Overlapping abnormalities in white matter volume and diffusivity have been reported. Increased white matter volume and decreased Fractional anisotropy has been observed in anterior midline tracts, interpreted as indicating increased crossings. However, given these effects were most pronounced in medicated adults, it is possible that medication plays a role An ALE meta analysis has observed increased FA in the superior longitudinal fasiculus and corpus callosum, and decreased FA in inferior longitudinal and cingulum fibres.


Glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter has been implicated in OCD. MRS studies have observed decreased Glx (glutamate, glutamine and GABA) in the striatum. However, increased Glx has been reported in the ACC. Furthermore, increased cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) glutamate and glycine have been found. Various preclinical models have supported glutamate signalling dysfunction in OCD, and treatment with glutamatergic agents such as the glutamate-inhibiting riluzole has been reported to be efficacious.

Reduced dopamine D1 receptors and dopamine D2 receptors in the striatum have been reported in people with OCD, along with both increased and decreased reports of dopamine transporter (DAT) binding. While antipsychotics are sometimes used to treat refractory OCD, they frequently fail in treating or exacerbate OCD symptoms. Treatment with deep brain stimulation is effective in OCD, and response correlates with increased dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. Combined this evidence suggests that OCD may be associated with both increased and decreased dopamine signalling, or that a unidirectional model may not be adequate.

Drug challenge studies have implicated 5-HT2A and 5-HT2A in OCD. Administration of meta-Chlorophenylpiperazine (mCPP), a non selective serotonin (5-HT) release and receptor agonist with a preference for 5-HT2C has been reported to exacerbate OCD symptoms. Psilocybin, a 5-HT2C, 5-HT2A and 5-HT1A receptor agonist has been associated with acute improvement of OCD symptoms. In vivo neuroimaging has found abnormalities with 5-HT2A and serotonin transporter (5-HTT). Inconsistent binding potentials have been observed for 5-HT2A, with both decreased and increased and binding potentials being reported. Inconsistent results have been reported in with respect to 5-HTT as well, with increased, decreased and no changes being reported.

Oestrogen and OCD

Aromatase is an enzyme expressed in several gonadic tissue sites. It is the rate limiting step in the conversion of androgens to oestrogen. This conversion can significantly impact oestrogen levels in brain areas. These OCD-linked effects have been demonstrated by Aromatase knockout mice (ArKO), who lack a functional enzyme to convert androgens to oestrogen. This ArKO knockout strategy has provided a model to examine the physiological impact of lower than normal amounts of oestrogen.

Studies with ArKO mice have been used to show that varying levels of oestrogen affect the onset of OCD behaviours. Lower amounts of oestrogen are associated with an increase of OCD behaviours in males more than females.

Variation in oestrogen can lead to increased levels of OCD symptoms within women as well. The disorder itself has a later onset in women, and tends to show two distinct peaks of onset. The first peak occurs around puberty and the second around the age of childbearing. These peaks correlate with time periods where oestrogen levels are highest in women.

What is the Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum?


The obsessive-compulsive spectrum is a model of medical classification where various psychiatric, neurological and/or medical conditions are described as existing on a spectrum of conditions related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Refer to An Overview of the Biology of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

“The disorders are thought to lie on a spectrum from impulsive to compulsive where impulsivity is said to persist due to deficits in the ability to inhibit repetitive behavior with known negative consequences, while compulsivity persists as a consequence of deficits in recognizing completion of tasks.”

OCD is a mental disorder characterised by obsessions and/or compulsions. An obsession is defined as “a recurring thought, image, or urge that the individual cannot control”. Compulsion can be described as a “ritualistic behaviour that the person feels compelled to perform”. The model suggests that many conditions overlap with OCD in symptomatic profile, demographics, family history, neurobiology, comorbidity, clinical course and response to various pharmacotherapies. Conditions described as being on the spectrum are sometimes referred to as obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders.


The following conditions have been hypothesized by various researchers as existing on the spectrum:

However, recently there is a growing support for proposals to narrow down this spectrum to only include body dysmorphic disorder, hypochondriasis, tic disorders, and trichotillomania.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Refer to Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

Body dysmorphic disorder is defined by an obsession with an imagined defect in physical appearance, and compulsive rituals in an attempt to conceal the perceived defect. Typical complaints include perceived facial flaws, perceived deformities of body parts and body size abnormalities. Some compulsive behaviours observed include mirror checking, ritualised application of makeup to hide the perceived flaw, excessive hair combing or cutting, excessive physician visits and plastic surgery. Body dysmorphic disorder is not gender specific and onset usually occurs in teens and young adults.


Hypochondriasis is excessive preoccupancy or worry about having a serious illness. These thoughts cause a person a great deal of anxiety and stress. The prevalence of this disorder is the same for men and women. Hypochondriasis is normally recognised in early adult age. Those that suffer with hypochondriasis are constantly thinking of their body functions, minor bumps and bruises as well as body images. Hypochondriacs go to numerous outpatient facilities for confirmation of their own diagnosis. Hypochondriasis is the belief that something is wrong but it is not known to be a delusion.

Tic Disorders

Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological disorder characterised by recurrent involuntary movements (motor tics) and involuntary noises (vocal tics). The reason Tourette’s syndrome and other tic disorders are being considered for placement in the obsessive compulsive spectrum is because of the phenomenology and co-morbidity of the disorders with obsessive compulsive disorder. Within the population of patients with OCD up to 40% have a history of a tic disorder and 60% of people with Tourette’s syndrome have obsessions and/or compulsions. Plus 30% of people with Tourette’s syndrome have clinically diagnosable OCD. Course of illness is another factor that suggests correlation because it has been found that tics displayed in childhood are a predictor of obsessive and compulsive symptoms in late adolescence and early adulthood. However, the association of Tourette’s and tic disorders with OCD is challenged by neuropsychology and pharmaceutical treatment. Whereas OCD is treated with SSRI, tics are treated with dopamine blockers and alpha-2 agonists.


Refer to Trichotillomania.

Trichotillomania is an impulse control disorder which causes an individual to pull out their hair from various parts of their body without a purpose. The cause for trichotillomania remains unknown. Like OCD, trichotillomania isn’t a nervous condition but stress can trigger this habit. For some people pulling their hair out of boredom is normal, but that isn’t the case for someone that is dealing with trichotillomania. Emotions do not affect the behaviour but these behaviours are more prevalent in those that suffer with depression. Review articles recommend behavioural interventions such as habit reversal training and decoupling.