Thursday, December 13, 2007

Is it really THAT amazing?

If you've ever seen exhibitions by Grand-Masters who play against scores of opponents simultaneously while blind-folded, it is easy to dismiss such people as talented freaks of nature with computer-like powers of analysis and photographic memories rather than view them as merely experts in their field who have trained themselves through long and intense study.

However, recent studies show that chess masters have only average abilities when it comes to memory and visual-spatial analysis. For example, despite having almost perfect recall for board positions related to actual games, the recall of grand masters turned out to be no better than average players when the pieces were arranged randomly on the board in unrealistic scenarios.

Based on evidence like this, the authors conclude that experts rely not so much on an intrinsically stronger power of analysis as on a store of structured knowledge, which takes an enormous amount of time and effort to attain. What appears to make much more difference than experience or talent is what the authors call "effortful study", which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one's competence.

It turns out that what differentiates an expert from a novice isn't that experts alone know how to engage in effortful study, but it is that experts continue to utilize this technique long after a novice stops.


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