Human metacognition involves discrimination, interpretation, and broadcasting of subtle cues indicating the rightness of ongoing thought and behaviour.
We propose that human metacognition is made fit for purpose by cultural evolution rather than genetic evolution.
In particular, we present evidence that the effective discrimination, interpretation, and broadcasting of metacognitive cues depends on cultural learning.
The cultural origins hypothesis advances a programme of research on the development of metacognition, cultural variation, individual differences, and cross-species comparisons.
Metacognition – the ability to represent, monitor and control ongoing cognitive processes – helps us perform many tasks, both when acting alone and when working with others. While metacognition is adaptive, and found in other animals, we should not assume that all human forms of metacognition are gene-based adaptations. Instead, some forms may have a social origin, including the discrimination, interpretation, and broadcasting of metacognitive representations. There is evidence that each of these abilities depends on cultural learning and therefore that cultural selection might shape human metacognition. The cultural origins hypothesis is a plausible and testable alternative that directs us towards a substantial new programme of research.