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Skilled Memory and Expertise: Mechanisms of Exceptional Performance

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Final rept. 1 Mar 1984-28 Feb 1987

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Skilled memory theory describes how subjects can acquire exceptional memory skills and thereby develop long-term memory with performance characteristics comparable to those of short-term memory. The research reported in this paper has further investigated the detailed mechanisms of exceptional digit span and has explored the generalizability of skilled memory theory to account for the superior memory of memory experts and of other experts in their domains of expertise. Two new studies tested three principles of skilled memory in the domain of exceptional digit span. One study showed that encoding a four- digit number as a unit e.g., coding 3526 as a running time for a race enables even expert runners to reliably retrieve only the first two digits of the number. The other study demonstrated that in addition to encoding numbers as running times, subjects encoded other patterns and relations between digits. This study also monitored in detail the emergence of a retrieval structure as a function of practice. A review of studies of individuals with exceptional memory shows that skilled memory theory can account for all available evidence on exceptional memory. Furthermore, detailed analyses of the memory performance of an exceptional waiter and a chess master support the claim that skilled memory theory can account for the superior memory performance of experts in their domain of expertise.

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  • Psychology

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