Comparing Mental Effort, Difficulty, and Confidence Appraisals in Problem-Solving: A Metacognitive Perspective

Emely Hoch, Yael Sidi, Rakefet Ackerman, Vincent Hoogerheide, Katharina Scheiter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is well established in educational research that metacognitive monitoring of performance assessed by self-reports, for instance, asking students to report their confidence in provided answers, is based on heuristic cues rather than on actual success in the task. Subjective self-reports are also used in educational research on cognitive load, where they refer to the perceived amount of mental effort invested in or difficulty of each task item. In the present study, we examined the potential underlying bases and the predictive value of mental effort and difficulty appraisals compared to confidence appraisals by applying metacognitive concepts and paradigms. In three experiments, participants faced verbal logic problems or one of two non-verbal reasoning tasks. In a between-participants design, each task item was followed by either mental effort, difficulty, or confidence appraisals. We examined the associations between the various appraisals, response time, and success rates. Consistently across all experiments, we found that mental effort and difficulty appraisals were associated more strongly than confidence with response time. Further, while all appraisals were highly predictive of solving success, the strength of this association was stronger for difficulty and confidence appraisals (which were similar) than for mental effort appraisals. We conclude that mental effort and difficulty appraisals are prone to misleading cues like other metacognitive judgments and are based on unique underlying processes. These findings challenge the accepted notion that mental effort appraisals can serve as reliable reflections of cognitive load.

Original languageEnglish
Article number61
JournalEducational Psychology Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by and inspired by discussions of the EARLI Emerging Field Group Monitoring and Regulation of Effort.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).


  • Cognitive load
  • Effort
  • Meta-reasoning
  • Metacognition
  • Monitoring
  • Self-regulated learning


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