Decision-making is an essential cognitive function in everyday life. The Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) is a popular neuropsychological task that assesses decision-making through reward and punishment in the context of learning from past experiences. Differences in decision-making performances of healthy participants predicted by metacognition levels and having explicit knowledge during IGT were examined. 76 female and 12 male students at İstanbul Kultur University completed the IGT and Metacognition Questionnaire-30 (MCQ-30). After completing task implementations, each participant was asked a list of questions relating to their strategy on IGT and categorized into two groups depending on their level of explicit knowledge. As in conventional analysis of IGT, each block's net score was calculated. Results indicated that group with knowledge had significantly higher net scores and consistently improved their performances across 5 blocks of IGT than group with no explicit knowledge. Study showed there is a difference between healthy controls' learning strategies and this difference reflected to their decision-making performances. In risky blocks of IGT as the task progresses, negative beliefs about uncontrollability and danger subscale scores of metacognition has a negative effect on advantageous decision making, whilst a higher score on cognitive confidence subscale predicts disadvantageous decision making. Results and suggestions for future studies were discussed in light of previous work.
Keywords: Iowa Gambling TaskDecision-MakingMetacognition
In recent years, decision-making has become one of the most frequently studied topics in
neuropsychology. In everyday life, we usually encounter with numerous kinds of problems related
directly to our personal issues such as emotional and social relationships together with our professional
careers. However, decision-making is a complex cognitive function that involves several factors
interacting with each other. Hence it had been a challenge for researchers to develop a valid and reliable
tool for assessing decision-making behaviour in such a way that it encompasses the real life situations.
IGT, (Bechara, Damasio, Damasio, & Anderson, 1994) is a widely used neuropsychological task across
healthy and patient groups to assess decision-making. Studies revealed significant performance
differences of IGT between healthy and patient groups and among several patient groups in their own
(Apkarian et. al, 2004; Bechara & Martin, 2004; Bechara, Tranel, & Damasio, 2000; Blair, Colledge, &
Mitchell, 2001; Brand et al. 2005; Rauch, 2000; Shurman, Horan,& Nuechterlein, 2005; Stout et al. 2004,
Bonatti et al., 2009). However, different patterns of IGT performances were observed between healthy
participants (Caroselli et al., 2006; Fernie&Tunney, 2006; Toplak et al., 2005; Wood et al., 2005; North
& O’Carroll, 2001; Overman et al., 2004). Only a few studies focused on individual factors that would
lead healthy participants to make disadvantageous choices on IGT. Results of the studies defined
particular cognitive and individual differences between healthy participants who perform differently in
the context of risk and avoidance on IGT such as impulsivity (Upton et al., 2012), need for cognition
Present study aims to assess the levels of different metacognitive thoughts (Flavell, 1979) as
predictors of decision-making performance under risk and ambiguity. As Thompson stated (2009), one
function of metacognition is to guide our decisions by detecting an intuitive response and to prevent it
over mediation of decision-making process through self-monitoring in case of being in a conflictive
situation or when a choice has to be made. In early blocks of the IGT, participants are making decisions
under ambiguity because they are not aware of the differences among cards’ reward and punishment
schemes and as the task progresses, they learn the payoff schemes of each deck, therefore, their decisions
are becoming to be risky at later blocks of IGT. Participant’s explicit knowledge regarding the changing
reward and punishment amounts after selecting from each of the decks contributes to a successful
performance on IGT (Brand et. al., 2007; Maia and McClelland, 2004). Therefore, an additional variable
named as explicit knowledge may influence the IGT performance.
There is a significant difference between IGT performances of groups with and without explicit knowledge regarding the rules of the task.
There is a predictive effect of metacognitive thoughts on IGT performance in ambiguous and risky blocks of the task.
4.Purpose of the Study
In this study, first, we aimed to investigate the predictive role of metacognition on either an
advantageous or a disadvantageous performance on ambiguous and risky blocks of IGT. Secondly, we
investigated the effect of explicit knowledge regarding the rules of IGT on decision-making performance.
76 female and 12 male students at Istanbul Kultur University participated voluntarily in return for
course credit. Participants’ ages ranged from 18 to 41 years (M = 20.70, S.D. = 2.68). All participants
with a lifetime history of psychiatric disorders, neurological disorders, or on current medication were
5.2.Assessing decision-making behaviour: Iowa Gambling Task
Participants were administered to a computerized version of the IGT (Bechara et al., 1994). A
computer engineer translated all English words shown on the screen in this task into Turkish ones. The
task consisted four decks of cards, labelled A, B, C, and D. Participants were given a stake of 2000 TL
and told that the object of the game was to win as much money as possible by selecting a card from the
desired deck by clicking on that deck with the computer mouse. A and B decks delivered immediate large
rewards but also immediate large losses; thus these decks were disadvantageous in the long term. C and D
decks delivered smaller immediate rewards but also immediate small losses, and thus were advantageous
in the long term. Participants were not aware of the composition of the decks or the number of trials (100
cards). After 100 selections, the task stopped automatically. As in previous work with this task, a total net
score for 100 trials and net scores for each five consecutive blocks of 20 trials were computed by
subtracting the total number of choices from decks C and D from the total number of choices from decks
A and B [(C′+D′)-(A′+B′)].
5.3.Explicit knowledge in relation to IGT
Each participant’s level of explicit knowledge was determined as high or low by using a similar
method described by Maia and McClelland (2004). At the end of the task, participants were asked to
describe all they knew about the task, whether they found any difference between the decks, and if they
had to choose only one deck, which one they would choose in order to earn money in the long run.
5.4.Assessing metacognition: Meta-cognitions questionnaire-30 (MCQ-30)
A standardized Turkish form (Tosun & Irak, 2008) of MCQ-30 developed by Wells and
Cartwright-Hatton (2004) was used to assess metacognition. Scale comprised of 30 self-reported Likert-
typed questions including five factors as follows; positive beliefs, uncontrollability and danger, cognitive
confidence, need to control thoughts and cognitive self-consciousness. Unlike other inventories that had
not been mentioned in this study, MCQ-30 assesses maladaptive metacognitive thoughts. For this reason,
having higher scores from subscales, indicate a dysfunctional metacognitive function. Results should be
discussed through this scoring framework. In present study, total scores of each subscale were calculated
and included into analysis as distinct independent variables.
Data were analysed with the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences for Windows, version 23
(SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL), using repeated measures ANOVA and linear regression analyses depending on
the characteristics of the variables investigated. Data were inspected for normality to ensure that the
assumptions of parametric statistics were met before analyses were performed. An alpha level of .05 was
used to judge whether findings were significant.
6.1.IGT performance and conscious knowledge
At the end of the task 33 participants (%37.5) reached high level of knowledge and 55 (%62.5)
participants failed to comprehend the correct strategy or they specified a preference for one of the two
advantageous decks but they could not provide a basis for that preference. A 2x5 repeated measures
ANOVA was conducted to compare groups’ IGT performances across the task with blocks as within-
subjects factor and level of knowledge as between-subjects factor. Because the assumption of sphericity
was not met (Mauchly’s W = .68,
were adjusted using the Greenhouse-Geisser F test. Between subjects tests revealed a significant main
effect of group (
knowledge. Within subjects tests revealed a significant main effect of block (
improved their performance across blocks in an advantageous manner over time.
6.2.Effect of metacognition during IGT tasks under ambiguity and under risk
the IGT tasks, both under ambiguity (blocks 1 and 2) and under risk (blocks 4 and 5). Under ambiguity
the model was null (
Lower level of uncontrollability and danger (
This study was conducted to evaluate the relationship between metacognitive beliefs, explicit
knowledge regarding the changing rules of a gambling task and decision-making performances of a
Turkish university student sample. The results showed that: (1) performance in the IGT was associated
with having explicit knowledge about the underlying contingencies; (2) uncontrollability and danger
subscale scores of MCQ-30 was negatively associated with IGT performance in risky blocks; (3)
cognitive confidence subscale scores of MCQ-30 was negatively associated with IGT performance in
risky blocks; (4) No association was found between performance in early blocks of IGT and neither of
MCQ-30 subscales scores.
First, our results are compatible with the data of Maia and McClelland (2004) and Guillaume et al.
(2009) establishing the involvement of explicit knowledge of rules to a successful performance during
IGT. In recent years, Somatic Marker Hypothesis (SMH) proposed by Bechara et al. (1997) has been
questioned and the main criticism concerns the explicit knowledge regarding the payoff schemes of
disadvantageous and advantageous decks. According to our study results, performance may be explained
by consciously accessible knowledge and explicit knowledge may therefore be more important than stated
by Bechara et al. (1997).
Second, scores of uncontrollability and danger subscale predicted IGT performance negatively.
Having metacognitive thoughts comprising uncontrollability and danger is a predictor of anxiety as well
(Irak & Tosun, 2008). Higher levels of anxiety have a negative predictive effect on decision-making
process (Massoni, 2014). In order to make an advantageous decision, anxiety level should be kept in an
optimum level. The negative effect of higher anxiety levels and trait anxiety on decision-making assessed
by IGT performance was shown by Miu et al. (2008). Therefore, reducing the anxiety that arises from
uncontrollability and danger may have an effect on bringing out a better performance on risky blocks of
Our third result was the negative predictive effect of cognitive confidence subscale scores on IGT
performance in risky blocks. Cognitive confidence concerns the intrinsic processes. Decision- making in a
risky situation is determined by the way that how contingencies are formulated in a cognitive level
(Kahneman & Tversky, 1979). Internal processes accompanying conscious feelings have a decisive role
in risky situations and individual metacognitive experiences are crucial for maintaining the balance
between these intrinsic and conscious feelings. In a study examining the relationship between
metacognitive skills and risky decision-making, it was found that subjects who made significantly more
risky choices, had also lower scores on a metacognitive task and yet their responses on the task were
impulsive and intuitive. Subjects who made less risky choices spent significantly more time on analysing
the options and their behaviours were related to their cognitive confidence scores (Frederick, 2005).
Therefore, having decreased cognitive confidence scores may have an effect on choices in risky blocks of
IGT in an advantageous manner.
MCQ-30 subscale scores had no predictive effect on performance in ambiguous blocks of IGT.
The results of studies that assessed healthy groups’ IGT performances, demonstrated that a large majority
of this population prefer to switch their choices between four of the decks randomly in early blocks of the
IGT in order to understand the changing payoffs of the decks and to comprehend a strategy rather than
choosing from one deck continuously. Therefore, it may be argued that in early blocks of the IGT healthy
subjects tend to make more spontaneous choices and as the task progresses and punishment feedbacks
become to appear more often, they initially attempt to earn more money and yet, they tend to develop a
strategy regarding the rules of the task in their minds. These processes involve metacognitive thoughts
and therefore decision-making performance on risky blocks of IGT is significantly related to
As an end, there are limitations for this study. First, MCQ-30 assesses metacognitive thoughts. For
a better understanding, task dependent methods for assessing metacognition are needed to be developed.
The findings of metacognitions rely on self-report data and there are no objective measures for
metacognitions. Second, the findings of this study should be tested with a large sample of participants to
obtain analysis with greater effect sizes and strong significant relationships. It should be noted that
however there are significant predictive effects of independent variables, these significance values were
low. Despite the limitations, we believe the present study might provide a step for understanding the role
of metacognitions in risky decision-making.
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Child psychology, developmental psychology, occupational psychology, industrial psychology, ethical issues
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Ermiş, E. N., & Icellioglu*, S. (2019). Effects Of Explicit Knowledge And Metacognitive Thoughts On Iowa Gambling Task Performance. In Z. Bekirogullari, M. Y. Minas, & R. X. Thambusamy (Eds.), Cognitive - Social, and Behavioural Sciences - icCSBs 2017, January, vol 20. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 9-16). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2017.01.02.2