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Hypothesis and Theory ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02621

Breaking the Cybernetic Code: Understanding and Treating the Human Metacognitive Control System to Enhance Mental Health

  • 1University of Manchester, United Kingdom
  • 2Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, United Kingdom

The self-regulatory executive function (S-REF) model explains the role of strategic processes and metacognition in psychological disorder and was a major influence on the development of metacognitive therapy. The model identifies a universal style of perseverative negative processing termed the cognitive attentional syndrome (CAS), comprised of worry, rumination, and threat monitoring in the development of disorder. The CAS is linked to dysfunctional metacognitions that include beliefs and plans for regulating cognition. In this paper I extend the theoretical foundations necessary to support further research on mechanisms linking metacognition to cognitive regulation and effective treatment. I propose a metacognitive control system (MCS) of the S-REF that can be usefully distinguished from cognition and is comprised of multiple structures, information and processes. The MCS monitors and controls activity of the cognitive system and regulates the behaviour of neural networks whose activities bias the way cognition is experienced. Metacognitive information involved in the regulation of on-line processing includes metacognitive beliefs, metacognitive procedural commands, and more transient cybernetic code. Separation of the cognitive and metacognitive systems and modelling their relationship presents major implications concerning what should be done in therapy and how it should be done. The paper concludes with an in-depth consideration of methods that strengthen the psychological basis of psychotherapy and aid in understanding and applying metacognitive therapy in particular. Finally, limitations of the model and implications for future research on self-awareness, self-regulation and metacognition are discussed.

Keywords: Metacogition, Metacognitive Therapy (MCT), Self-regulatory executive function, cognitive control, Mental Health, metacognitive beliefs, self-awareness, Anxiety, Depression, transdiagnostic mechanisms, Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), Recovery, neural networks, interoception, Psychotherapy, embodiment, felt-sense, Controlled Processing, Automatic Processing, Exposure, Information processing theory, Attention, adaptation, perseverative cogniton, worry, rumination, Threat monitoring, Metacognitive Control System, S-REF model

Received: 21 Jun 2019; Accepted: 06 Nov 2019.

Copyright: © 2019 Wells. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Prof. Adrian Wells, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom, adrian.wells@manchester.ac.uk