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You've may not be aware of it, but since the end of the nineteenth century, chess has been a popular topic of research in cognitive psychology, the field of scientific psychology that studies perception, memory, learning, and thinking.

Some of the most striking phenomena characterizing expert behaviour were first discovered by De Groot (1978) and Chase and Simon (1973) in their work on chess, and later replicated by researchers in other domains. There are at least two reasons why chess was chosen. Its competitive nature makes it possible to precisely differentiate between skill levels, which is not the case in many domains of expertise studied in psychology, such as medicine and physics. Chess also offers a nice balance between simplicity of the rules and complexity of the space of possible games; this enables both the design of elegant experiments and a fruitful cross-fertilization with mathematics and artificial intelligence.

In this section you'll find summaries of cognitive psichology articles that investigate expertise and knowledge and skill acquisition using chess.

CONCEPTS

CHUNKS

Perceptual and semanthical units.

PRODUCTIONS

SCHEMATA

a.k.a. Templates

TEMPLATES

a.k.a. Schemata

EINSTELLUNG

the brain’s tendency to stick with familiar ideas can literally blind us to superior solutions

DELIBERATE PRACTICE

Engage in appropiately challenging tasks that are chosen with the goal of improving a particular skill.

THE MAGICAL NUMBER SEVEN

DECLARATIVE KNOWLEDGE

Know What

PROCEDURAL KNOWLEDGE

Know How

PRIMING

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TRAINING IN CHESS: A SCIENTIFIC APPROACH

Fernand Gobet & Peter J. Jansen

This article is definitelly worth reading if you're a chess player willing to improve.

There's quite a few thing psychology discovered about chess player worth knowing:

1. Chess players have a highly efficient mode of (high-level) perception. They can access the key elements of a position rapidly.

2. Chess players show a remarkable memory for chess positions and games. This ability typically does not extend beyond chess.

3. Chess knowledge is encoded at several levels, in particular at a low, perceptual level, where patterns of pieces are stored, and at a high, conceptual level, where information about plans, evaluation, etc., is stored. These various types of encoding, with rich indexing and a high level of cross-referencing, account for chess players’ excellent professional memory.

4. Chess players search highly selectively. It is rare that they analyze more than one hundred positions in the search tree before choosing a move.

5. There is no difference between the search algorithm of class A players (Elo 1800-2000) and that of Grandmasters.

6. Masters lose relatively little of their skill when they play simultaneous games or speed chess.

The author revisit the training based on the scientific evidence collected and they also debunk a series of widelly spread myths.

The recomendations made by the authors can be summarized as follows:

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CHESS PLAYERS' THINKING REVISITED

Fernand Gobet

This article from 1998 studies the differences in thought process between chess masters and amateurs.

Traditionaly, to the article date, there were 2 main approaches to chess expertise. Pattern recognition vs. Search Depth. Simply, or bluntly put each theory can be summarized as follows:

The article tries to settle which of both approaches is correct analyzing new data, based on their ability to predict the correct experiment result.

Based on their assumptions, when comparing amateurs to masters performing different tasks (simplified from the ones in the article), their predictions are:

TaskPattern Recognition theorySearch Deph theory
choose better movesMaster betterMaster better
select move fasterMaster betterMaster better
search more nodesMaster equal or lessMaster more
search detphMaster equal or lessMaster more
base movesMaster fewerMasters more
need of timeMaster lessMasters more

The results of the experiment corroborate the Pattern Recognition approach, but also confirm that there is a difference in mean depth search (meaning that on average master calculate a little bit deeper). Thus it seems that both approaches instead of being mutually exclusive are complementary views of the same process that can be integrated.

The author's proposal is to integrate both approaches in Template Theory. Rooted in Pattern Recognition approach, Template Theory states that memory does store Templates, rather than chunks.

Template = chunks with slots + associated moves and plans + associated templates

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PERCEPTION IN CHESS

William G. Chase Herbert A. Simon

Since De Groot's experiment chess masters' perception has been in the spotlight. And it seems pretty much clear that masters seem to perceive chess positions as chunks of several RELATED pieces.

In this article from 1973 the authors revisit De Groot's experiment trying to lay out a solid base for the chunking theory.

Once again, the master outperformed amateur and beginner in LEGAL positions. But not in random (NON-legal) positions.

This led to think that memory of positions depends on recognizing familiar configurations of pieces (a.k.a. chunks).

Several hypothesis where used:

Chunking theory states that perception and long term memory are developed all together and thus experts and novices do not perceive the same thing when exposed to the same situation.

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THINKING AHEAD IN CHESS

DH Holding

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DE GROOT'S EXPERIMENT

During the mid sixties De Groot made a ground breaking study in expertise using chess players.

As one of the experiments used for the study has been widely repeated and discussed it is worth to go through it here so that the reader is familiar with it.

During the study De Groot presented players of different strength (from amateurs to, GMs, including a World Champion) several piece setups over a chess board (for a restricted amount of time, 5 seconds).

The masters showed:

This showed a great remarkable short term memory for LEGAL chess positions in masters.

Strikingly, this was not the only experiment conducted, but for all other tasks and processes evaluated (i.e. number of moves evaluated, thought process, search depth, etc.) masters showed the same performance that amateurs, weaker players.

From that moment on chess mastery has been tied to perception and memory enconding.

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CHUNKING MODELS OF EXPERTISE: IMPLICATIONS FOR EDUCATION

Fernand Gobet

Chunking theories explain how knowledge is preceived and created. Chunks, perceptual/semantic units, are encoded for later retrieval in LTM (Long Term Memory).

In this article explores how 2 different models of chunking theory (EPAM & CHREST) may suggest how to conduct education more efficiently.

Implications

The implications for education can be summarized as follows:

The role of practice and the cost of acquiring knowledge

Dedication is essential to acquire knowledge to create and grow the perceptual and memory discrimination network. Thus deliberate practice is key, but as the author puts it Practice needs to be tailored to the goal of improving performance, as many invalid or irrelevant chunks can be acquired, which may be counterproductive.

This raises the question about the value of several online tactical trainers that expose the user to random exercises. Are they

The role of perception in acquiring knowledge

Relationship between abstract knowledge and perception is under discussion but it seems failry clear that: perceptual skills, anchored in concrete examples, play a central role in the development of expertise, and that conceptual knowledge is later built on such perceptual skills. So it is important to develop perceptual chunks but without over emphatizing on it.

The role of teachers and tutorial systems

Their role should be directed to ...acquisition of perceptual chunks, an important role for teachers (both human and artificial) is to direct learners’ attention to the key features of the material to learn because Presenting components of the right size and difficulty will help students direct attention to the important features of the material, and in turn help the acquisition of perceptual chunks that are appropriate....

The question of transfer

Chunking theories and expertise investigation as a whole, have demonstrated that transfer is low and just restricted to situations ...when there is an overlap between the components of the skills required in each domain.

Order effects in learning

Not all chunking theory simulators reached the same conclussions, but ...simulations with CHREST showing that changes within the ordering of the learning set have a rather strong impact on the structure of the discrimination network and on the speed of information retrieval. Thus the order in which curriculum is thaught seems to be relevant.

Acquiring productions

Productions are rule based, condition-action pairings. It seems fairly demonstrated that chunks are often encoded as conditions to actions. Two conclussions are reached in the study:

Acquiring schemata

Schemata, or templates, are generalizations of chunks. Chunks with slots.

...without variation, schemata cannot be created. For example, in the case of elementary mathematics, presenting a narrow range of problems will hamper the acquisition of a sufficient variety of chunks and links connecting them, and, consequently, schemata are not likely to be formed.

Declarative, procedural, and conceptual knowledge

Relation between different types of knowledge is tricky. And it may seem more conceptual than real, as chunking models have not shown clear distinction between Declarative knowledge (knowing what) and Procedural knowledge (knowing how) creation: ...the learning of both types of knowledge occurs incrementally and implicitly Conceptual: ...to give sufficient basis to conceptual knowledge it is necessary to acquire a richly-connected network of links joining productions and schemata, which are accessible through perceptual chunks.

Acquiring multiple representations

In fact, learning multiple representations requires duplicating the same information in different formats. Although redundancy is certainly an important aspect of human memory and understanding, CHREST draws our attention to the fact that it also has a cost, in particular with respect to the time spent in learning

The use of multiple representations is only one of many learning devices that have flourished with the advent of modern educational technology. ...Chunk-based models actually warn us against any excess of optimism in the use of new technologies, as long as they do not help circumvent the key limiting constants of human cognition (i.e. attention, STM, and learning rates).

The role of individual differences and talent

There are vast individual differences in people’s cognitive abilities (Ackerman, 1987; Sternberg, 2000), both at the novice and expert levels.

First, while individual differences tend to be diluted by large amounts of practice, they play a large role in the early stages of studying a domain, which characterizes much of classroom instruction. Second, as seen earlier, taking into account individual differences may lead to better instruction, because instruction can be optimized for each student, including feedback on progress, organization of material, and choice of learning strategies to be taught.

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EXPERTISE, MODELS OF LEARNING AND COMPUTER-BASED TUTORING

Fernand Gobet D. Wood

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CHESS DATABASES AS A RESEARCH VEHICLE IN PSYCHOLOGY: MODELING LARGE DATA

Merim Bilalic & Nemanja Vaci

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WHY GOOD THOUGHTS BLOCK BETTER ONES

Merim Bilalic & Peter McLeod

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FUSIFORM FACE AREA IN CHESS EXPERTISE

Merim Bilalic

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COGNITIVE PROCESSES AND DEVELOPMENT OF CHESS GENIUS: AN INTEGRATIVE APPROACH

Guillermo Campitelli, Fernand Gobet & Merim Bilalic

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INFLEXIBILITY OF EXPERTS—REALITY OR MYTH? QUANTIFYING THE EINSTELLUNG EFFECT IN CHESS MASTERS

Merim Bilalic, Peter McLeod & Fernand Gobet

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SPECIALIZATION EFFECT AND ITS INFLUENCE ON MEMORY AND PROBLEM SOLVING IN EXPERT CHESS PLAYERS

Merim Bilalic, Peter McLeod & Fernand Gobet

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THE ROLE OF DELIBERATE PRACTICE IN THE ACQUISITION OF EXPERT PERFORMANCE

K. Anders Ericsson, Ralf Thomas Krampe, Clemens Tesch-Römer

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THE ROLE OF DELIBERATE PRACTICE IN CHESS EXPERTISE

Neil Charness, Michael Tuffiash, Ralf Krampe, Eyal Reingold and Ekaterina Vasyukova

In this study try to stablish which of the following three activities: studying alone, tournament practice (competitive play) and formal instruction is a stronger predictor of chess expertise.

After couple of surveys were conducted over a 375 chess players group from different countries, they found out that hours devoted to chess study alone were the strongest predictor of chess success.

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COGNITIVE PROCESSES IN CHESS

Guillermo Campitelli

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THE ROLE OF DOMAIN-SPECIFIC PRACTICE, HANDEDNESS, AND STARTING AGE IN CHESS

Fernand Gobet & Guillermo Campitelli

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THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN COGNITIVE ABILITY AND CHESS SKILL:A COMPREHENSIVE META-ANALYSIS

Alexander P. Burgoyne, Giovanni Sala, Fernand Gobet, Brooke N. Macnamara, Guillermo Campitelli & David Z. Hambrick

Corrigendum

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EXPERTISE IN COMPLEX DECISION MAKING: THE ROLE OF SEARCH IN CHESS 70 YEARS AFTER DE GROOT

Michael H. Connors, Bruce D. Burns & Guillermo Campitelli

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DELIBERATE PRACTICE: NECESSARY BUT NOT SUFFICIENT

Guillermo Campitelli & Fernand Gobet

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THE ROLE OF DELIBERATE PRACTICE IN EXPERTISE: NECESSARY BUT NOT SUFFICIENT

Fernand Gobet

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THE MIND'S EYE IN BLINDFOLD CHESS

Guillermo Campitelli & Fernand Gobet

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ADAPTIVE EXPERT DECISION MAKING: SKILLED CHESS PLAYERS SEARCH MORE AND DEEPER

Guillermo Campitelli & Fernand Gobet

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BRAIN ORGANIZATION OF PERCEPTION IN CHESS EXPERTS

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THE GEOMETRY OF EXPERTISE

Maria Juliana Leone & Mariano Sigman

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RESPONSE TIME DISTRIBUTIONS IN RAPID CHESS: A LARGE-SCALE DECISION MAKING EXPERIMENT

Mariano Sigman, Pablo Etchemendy, Diego Fernández Slezak and Guillermo A. Cecchi

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RAPID CHESS: A MASSIVE-SCALE EXPERIMENT

Diego Fernandez Slezak1, Pablo Etchemendy and Mariano Sigman

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THE EXPERTISE REVERSAL EFFECT: COGNITIVE LOAD AND MOTIVATIONAL EXPLANATIONS

Günter Daniel Rey & Florian Buchwald

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CHESS AND CONTENT-ORIENTED PSYCHOLOGY OF THINKING

Pertti Saariluoma

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THE TELL-TALE HEART: HEART RATE FLUCTUATIONS INDEX OBJECTIVE AND SUBJECTIVE EVENTS DURING A GAME OF CHESS

Maria J. Leone, Agustín Petroni, Diego Fernandez Slezak and Mariano Sigman

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THE TELL-TALE HEART: HEART RATE FLUCTUATIONS INDEX OBJECTIVE AND SUBJECTIVE EVENTS DURING A GAME OF CHESS

Maria J. Leone, Agustín Petroni, Diego Fernandez Slezak and Mariano Sigman

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COGNITIVE LOAD THEORY AND INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN:RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

Fred Paas, Alexander Renkl & John Sweller

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COGNITIVE LOAD THEORY AND THE FORMAT OF INSTRUCTION

Paul Chandler & John Sweller

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RESEARCH ON COGNITIVE LOAD THEORY: APPLICATION TO E-LEARNING

Gary R. Morrison & Gary J. Anglin

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MEASURING KNOWLEDGE TO OPTIMIZE COGNITIVE LOAD FACTORS DURING INSTRUCTION

Slava Kalyuga and John Sweller

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MEASURING KNOWLEDGE TO OPTIMIZE COGNITIVE LOAD FACTORS DURING INSTRUCTION

Slava Kalyuga and John Sweller

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EVALUATING LEARNER COGNITIVE LOAD USING CONCURRENT VERBAL REPORTS

Slava Kalyuga & Jan Plass

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WHY SOME MATERIAL IS DIFFICULT TO LEARN

John Sweller & Paul Chandler

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VISUO-SPATIAL INTERFERENCE AND APPERCEPTION IN CHESS

Pertti Saariluoma

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CHESS PLAYER'S THINKING A COGNITIVE PSYCHOLOGICAL APPROACH

Pertti Saariluoma

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DIRECT MEASUREMENT OF COGNITIVE LOAD IN MULTIMEDIA LEARNING

Roland Brünken, Jan L. Plass & Detlev Leutner

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VISUALIZATION, PATTERN RECOGNITION, AND FORWARD SEARCH: EFFECTS OF PLAYING SPEED AND SIGHT OF THE POSITION ON GRANDMASTER CHESS ERRORS

Christopher F. Chabris a, Eliot S. Hearst

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COGNITIVE AND NEUROPSYCHOLOGICAL MECHANISMS OF EXPERTISE: STUDIES WITH CHESS MASTERS

Christopher F. Chabris

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THE MAGICAL NUMBER SEVEN, PLUS OR MINUS TWO: SOME LIMITS ON OUR CAPACITY FOR PROCESSING INFORMATION

George A. Miller

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