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Hot metacognition: poorer metacognitive efficiency following acute but not traumatic stress.

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Bisby, James A 
Bevan, Anna 


Aberrations to metacognition-the ability to reflect on and evaluate self-performance-are a feature of poor mental health. Theoretical models of post-traumatic stress disorder propose that following severe stress or trauma, maladaptive metacognitive evaluations and appraisals of the event drive the development of symptoms. Empirical research is required in order to reveal whether disruptions to metacognition cause or contribute to symptom development in line with theoretical accounts, or are simply a consequence of ongoing psychopathology. In two experiments, using hierarchical Bayesian modelling of metacognition measured in a memory recognition task, we assessed whether distortions to metacognition occur at a state-level after an acute stress induction, and/or at a trait-level in a sample of individuals experiencing intrusive memories following traumatic stress. Results from experiment 1, an in-person laboratory-based experiment, demonstrated that heightened psychological responses to the stress induction were associated with poorer metacognitive efficiency, despite there being no overall change in metacognitive efficiency from pre- to post-stress (N = 27). Conversely, in experiment 2, an online experiment using the same metamemory task, we did not find evidence of metacognitive alterations in a transdiagnostic sample of patients with intrusive memory symptomatology following traumatic stress (N = 36, compared to 44 matched controls). Our results indicate a relationship between state-level psychological responses to stress and metacognitive alterations. The lack of evidence for pre- to post-stress differences in metamemory illustrates the importance for future studies to reveal the direction of this relationship, and consequently the duration of stress-associated metacognitive impairments and their impact on mental health.


Acknowledgements: This study was funded by the AXA Research Fund (G102329, awarded to CLN) the Medical Research Council (MC_UU_00030/12 and MC_UU_00030/5, awarded to CLN and TD), and the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre (BRC-1215-20014). CLN is funded by a Wellcome Career Development Award (226490/Z/22/Z). We thank Stephen Fleming for useful discussion of aspects of this manuscript.

Funder: NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre (BRC-1215-20014)


Humans, Metacognition, Bayes Theorem, Mental Health, Phenotype, Psychopathology

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Transl Psychiatry

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
National Institute for Health and Care Research (IS-BRC-1215-20014)
MRC (MC_UU_00030/5)
MRC (MC_UU_00030/12)