One of the earliest studies of expertise demonstrated that the same stimulus is perceived and understood differently, depending on the knowledge that a person brings to the situation. DeGroot (1965) was interested in understanding how world-class chess masters are consistently able to out-think their opponents. Chess masters and less experienced but still extremely good players were shown examples of chess games and asked to think aloud as they decided on the move they would make if they were one of the players; see Box 2.1. DeGroot’s hypothesis was that the chess masters would be more likely than the nonmasters to (a) think through all the possibilities before making a move (greater breadth of search) and (b) think through all the possible countermoves of the opponent for every move considered (greater depth of search). In this pioneering research, the chess masters did exhibit considerable breadth and depth to their searches, but so did the lesser ranked chess players. And none of them conducted searches that covered all the possibilities. Somehow, the chess masters considered possibilities for moves that were of higher quality than those considered by the lesser experienced players. Something other than differences in general strategies seemed to be responsible for differences in expertise.
DeGroot concluded that the knowledge acquired over tens of thousands of hours of chess playing enabled chess masters to out-play their opponents. Specifically, masters were more likely to recognize meaningful chess configurations and realize the strategic implications of these situations; this recognition allowed them to consider sets of possible moves that were superior to others. The meaningful patterns seemed readily apparent to the masters, leading deGroot (1965:33–34) to note:
We know that increasing experience and knowledge in a specific field (chess, for instance) has the effect that things (properties, etc.) which, at earlier stages, had to be abstracted, or even inferred are apt to be immediately perceived at later stages. To a rather large extent, abstraction is replaced by perception, but we do not know much about how this works, nor where the borderline lies. As an effect of this replacement, a so-called ‘given’ problem situation is not really given since it is seen differently by an expert than it is perceived by an inexperienced person….
DeGroot’s think-aloud method provided for a very careful analysis of the conditions of specialized learning and the kinds of conclusions one can draw from them (see Ericsson and Simon, 1993). Hypotheses generated from think-aloud protocols are usually cross-validated through the use of other methodologies.
The superior recall ability of experts, illustrated in the example in the box, has been explained in terms of how they “chunk” various elements of a configuration that are related by an underlying function or strategy. Since