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9 - The paradox of human expertise: why experts get it wrong

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2011

Itiel E. Dror
University College London
Narinder Kapur
University College London
Alvaro Pascual-Leone
Harvard Medical School
Vilayanur Ramachandran
University of California, San Diego
Jonathan Cole
University of Bournemouth
Sergio Della Sala
University of Edinburgh
Tom Manly
MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit
Andrew Mayes
University of Manchester
Oliver Sacks
Columbia University Medical Center
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Expertise is correctly, but one-sidedly, associated with special abilities and enhanced performance. The other side of expertise, however, is surreptitiously hidden. Along with expertise, performance may also be degraded, culminating in a lack of flexibility and error. Expertise is demystified by explaining the brain functions and cognitive architecture involved in being an expert. These information processing mechanisms, the very making of expertise, entail computational trade-offs that sometimes result in paradoxical functional degradation. For example, being an expert entails using schemas, selective attention, chunking information, automaticity and more reliance on top-down information, all of which allows experts to perform quickly and efficiently; however, these very mechanisms restrict flexibility and control, may cause the experts to miss and ignore important information, introduce tunnel vision and bias and can cause other effects that degrade performance. Such phenomena are apparent in a wide range of expert domains, from medical professionals and forensic examiners, to military fighter pilots and financial traders.

Expertise is highly sought after – only those with special abilities, after years of training and experience, can achieve those exceptional brain powers that make them experts. Indeed, being an expert is most often prestigious, well-paid, respected and in high demand. However, examining expertise in depth raises some interesting and complex questions. In this chapter, I will take apart and reject the myth that experts merely have superior performance per se.

The Paradoxical Brain , pp. 177 - 188
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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