The expert mind

In the latest issue of Scientific American, Philip E. Ross presents an overview of what we know about the Expert Mind, culled from decades of research on chess (which he calls the Drosophila of cognitive science). Here are some of the key conclusions:

The better players did not examine more possibilities, only better ones…

… [T]he expert relies not so much on an intrinsically stronger power of analysis as on a store of structured knowledge …

… [E]xperts rely more on structured knowledge than on analysis …

… [A]bility in one area tends not to transfer to another.

… [I]t takes enormous effort to build these structures in the mind. [Herbert] Simon coined a psychological law of his own, the 10-year rule, which states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field. Even child prodigies, such as Gauss in mathematics, Mozart in music and Bobby Fischer in chess, must have made an equivalent effort, perhaps by starting earlier and working harder than others. …

… [K. Anders] Ericsson [whose views on expertise was linked to here] eargues that what matters is not experience per se but “effortful study,” which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one’s competence. …

… [M]otivation appears to be a more important factor than innate ability in the development of expertise. It is no accident that in music, chess and sports–all domains in which expertise is defined by competitive performance rather than academic credentialing–professionalism has been emerging at ever younger ages, under the ministrations of increasingly dedicated parents and even extended families. …

… [S]uccess builds on success, because each accomplishment can strengthen a child’s motivation.

All of which lead to the ultimate conclusion:

The preponderance of psychological evidence indicates that experts are made, not born.

* * *

See also After the Bell Curve by David Kirp in the NYTimes Magazine, and the comments on this article on the blogs of Mark Thoma and Brad DeLong.

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