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Keywords:

  • Psychology;
  • Memory;
  • Problem solving;
  • Expertise;
  • Reasoning;
  • Pattern recognition;
  • Human experimentation;
  • Problem-solving strategies;
  • Specialization;
  • Thinking;
  • Chess

Abstract

Expert chess players, specialized in different openings, recalled positions and solved problems within and outside their area of specialization. While their general expertise was at a similar level, players performed better with stimuli from their area of specialization. The effect of specialization on both recall and problem solving was strong enough to override general expertise—players remembering positions and solving problems from their area of specialization performed at around the level of players 1 standard deviation (SD) above them in general skill. Their problem-solving strategy also changed depending on whether the problem was within their area of specialization. When it was, they searched more in depth and less in breadth; with problems outside their area of specialization, the reverse. The knowledge that comes from familiarity with a problem area is more important than general purpose strategies in determining how an expert will tackle it. These results demonstrate the link in experts between problem solving and memory of specific experiences and indicate that the search for context-independent general purpose problem-solving strategies to teach to future experts is unlikely to be successful.