Dividing attention impairs metacognitive control more than monitoring

Yaoping Peng, Jonathan G. Tullis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Students consistently report multitasking (e.g., checking social media, texting, watching Netflix) when studying on their own (e.g., Junco & Cotton, Computers & Education, 59[2], 505–514, 2012). Multitasking impairs explicit learning (e.g., Carrier, Rosen, Cheever, & Lim, Developmental Review, 35, 64–78, 2015), but the impact of multitasking on metacognitive monitoring and control is less clear. Metacognition may compete with ongoing cognitive processing for mental resources (e.g., Nelson & Narens, The Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 26, 125–141, 1990) and would be impaired by dividing attention; alternatively, metacognition may require little attention (e.g., Boekaerts & Niemivirta, Handbook of Self-Regulation [pp. 417–450], 2000) and would not be impacted by dividing attention. Across three experiments, we assessed the influence of divided attention on metacognition. Participants made item-by-item judgements of learning (JOLs) after studying word pairs under full or divided attention (Experiment 1) and made restudy choices (Experiments 2 & 3). Dividing attention had little impact on the resolution of learners’ metacognitive monitoring, but significantly impaired calibration of monitoring, the relationship between monitoring and control, and the efficacy of metacognitive control. The data suggest that monitoring may require few cognitive resources, but controlling one’s learning (e.g., planning what to restudy and implementing a plan) may demand significant mental resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • Divided attention
  • Metacognition
  • Metacognitive control
  • Metacognitive monitoring

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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