Education and Human Sciences, College of (CEHS)


First Advisor

Dr. Caron Clark

Date of this Version



Behrendt, M. (2022). Assessing the role of biology undergraduates' metacognitive calibration and neural activity during model-based reasoning (unpublished master's thesis). University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, Nebraska.


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Arts, Major: Educational Psychology, Under the Supervision of Professor Caron A.C. Clark. Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2022

Copyright © 2022 Mei Grace Behrendt


Metacognition refers to the critical awareness of or ability to monitor, regulate, control, and sequence of one's thoughts and performance. There is limited research that examines the relationship between metacognition and (a) academic performance and (b) general cognition among undergraduates. Moreover, there is an even greater paucity of literature that focuses more specifically on undergraduate biology students’ neural activity in relation to their metacognition.

This study aimed to examine the relationship between undergraduate life sciences students' metacognitive calibration, i.e., their capacity to self-evaluate their own performance, and their behavioral performance and brain activity during a biological error reasoning task. Thirty-four undergraduate students (Mage= 19.47, 85% female) from a Midwestern university completed a model reasoning task during functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Two distinct groups of students with individual differences— Calibrated and Non-Calibrated—emerged based on the match of their task accuracy to their self-reported confidence in their accuracy.

General patterns indicated that participants tended to overestimate their performance. Findings indicated that task accuracy was associated with stronger activation in the left middle frontal gyrus when evaluating correct models. Additionally, students in the Calibrated group showed higher levels of activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus on trials they were confident on in the model evaluation task than students in the Non-Calibrated group. These results suggest that students in the Calibrated group are better at recognizing the need for effortful and strategic reasoning during trials that demand error detection and that they, therefore, deploy PFC during these trials. These findings also highlight metacognition, and specifically students' self-monitoring, as a core target for STEM educators to promote effective reasoning, as well as a need to nurture and foster metacognition and self-awareness in the classroom.

Advisor: Caron A.C. Clark