There is a central paradox at the heart of expertise: experts consistently perform better than novices, whilst at the same time they engage in less thinking and energy than novices. A core question that has intrigued psychologists for years is how can less thinking and cognitive processing produce better performance?
The standard understanding about this issue is that experts have acquired a set of skills (both physical and cognitive) and automated them. In effect, experts chunk sets of skills and lines of thinking into automated ‘modules’ that they can combine rapidly in a range of different and new contexts. Essentially, experts create cognitive shortcuts or routines.
…how can less thinking and cognitive processing produce better performance?
So, rather than having to think through and deliberately take action, experts simply trigger a series of pre-programmed shortcuts. However, this does not explain how experts manage to combine these pre-programmed modules in new contexts.
Context Retrieval and Updating
A new study from Vanderbilt University in the US has proposed a new theory called the Context Retrieval and Updating model, or CRU for short. What the model has found is that there is a shift in the way the brain deals with information as it progresses from novice to expert.
In novice situations, the learner has to go through a process in series using top-down control. What this means is that the learner has to process everything, in series, one step at a time within capacity of their working memory.
This means that the processing is:
- Slower (takes time)
- Increases the cognitive processing load
Expert processing or automatic control
What the study found was that experts process very little within their working memory, with the load being transferred to the motor system for physical skills and other cognitive processes, such as speech systems, reasoning systems etc. that do not require working memory to function.
99% of everything you are trying to do...
...has already been done by someone else, somewhere - and meticulously researched.
Get the latest research briefings, infographics and more from The Oxford Review - Free.
This shift from working memory to automatic control through a cognitive system frees up the working memory and similar systems to process data about the context and novelties within the context.
Previous assumption about automatic control in expert systems was that it was essentially ‘blind’ and just running automatically. However, the Context Retrieval and Updating model shows that the processing is transferred from the working memory systems into other systems, such as the motor system (muscle memory), which frees up the working memory to focus on context and anomalies. This means that the automatic systems or modules that are transferred out of the working memory are still being controlled by the individual.
Further, this means that the expert learns then to ‘chunk’ the impact of different contexts on their area of expertise and automate them in turn. This further frees up the load on the working memory and higher order cognitive systems.
Members can download the full research briefing and review (what is a research briefing?) and references from the members only library
Be impressively well informed
Get the very latest research intelligence briefings, video research briefings, infographics and more sent direct to you as they are published
Be the most impressively well-informed and up-to-date person around...