A pair of interesting posts from Cognitive Daily:
(The first post includes a mini-experiment for you to participate in. Give it a try.)
Dave Munger quotes a study suggesting that experts have a larger visual working memory in their area of expertise than non-experts do. But he cites a second study suggesting that experts don’t have a larger working memory; their memory is more detailed. Think of the difference between having a larger computer, and having a computer with many different applications on it.
Munger’s second post explores whether those experts are good at recognizing objects other than faces–since humans are really good at face-recognition.
Again in the second post, there’s a quick experiment for you to try.
The conclusion Munger draws from the second experiment is that “for visual short-term memory, expertise isn’t about prior knowledge, but the ability to process visual images more efficiently.
So what? In part, this suggests that expertise is not (surprise, surprise) an inborn trait. You don’t get to “expert” level because you had more parking space in your brain; your work increases you ability to make use of the space you do have.
It’s not so much knowing a lot of things; it’s being able to recognize and relate patterns. We know a lot about ways to help people purposefully increase their ability. Not everyone can end up as a world-class expert, but it’s certainly possible to shift the average performance upward.
(Added 3/3/09: it’s significant that I posted this four days ago and only now noticed I hadn’t included a title…)