Neuroimaging Evidence of Comprehension Monitoring

Linda Baker, Alisa Zeliger-Kandasamy, Laura U. DeWyngaert


The purpose of this article is to synthesize the emerging neuroimaging literature that reveals how the brain responds when readers and listeners encounter texts that demand monitoring of their ongoing comprehension processes. Much of this research has been undertaken by cognitive scientists who do not frame their work in metacognitive terms, and therefore it is less likely to be familiar to psychologists who study metacognition in educational contexts. The important role of metacognition in the development and use of academic skills is widely recognized. Metacognition is typically defined as the awareness and control of one's own cognitive processes. In the domain of reading, the most important metacognitive skill is comprehension monitoring, the evaluation and regulation of comprehension. Readers who monitor their understanding realize when they have encountered difficulty making sense of the text, and they apply error correction procedures to attempt to resolve the difficulty. Metacognition depends on executive control skills that continue to develop into early adulthood, in parallel with the maturation of the executive control regions of the prefrontal cortex. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and event-related potentials (ERP) have been used for some time to study neural correlates of basic reading processes such as word identification, but it is only within recent years that researchers have turned to the higher-level processes of text comprehension. The article describes illustrative studies that reveal changes in neural activity when adults apply lexical, syntactic, or semantic standards to evaluate their understanding.


metacognition; comprehension monitoring; neuroimaging; reading; comprehension

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