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Ericsson, K. A., & Lehmann, A. C. (1996). Expert and exceptional performance: Evidence of maximal adaptation to task. Annual Review of Psychology, 47, 273-305.

Author of the summary: David Zach Hambrick, 1998, gt8781a@prism.gatech.edu


Ericsson & Lehmann (1996)


The focus of this paper is the adaptability of human behavior to environmental demands. A major assumption of the talent view of expert performance is that while practice is necessary, asymptotic performance levels are constrained by stable, invariant constraints. By contrast, Ericsson and Lehmann assert that "The belief that most anatomical and physiological characteristics are unmodifiable and thus reflect innate talent is not valid for expert performance acquired through at least a decade of intense practice" (p. 279). The cite evidence from studies of expert performers (e.g., ballet dancers) showing that adaptations--for example, to the musculature--are the result of very specific types of stimulation. In addition, there is evidence showing no differences between experts and novices on general measures of cognitive and perceptual functioning. To illustrate, the correlation between IQ and domain-specific performance decreases with continued practice. (However, what does an initially stronger correlation suggest? One possibility is that general factors play a role early—as Fleishman and Ackerman have proposed.


Central to Ericsson and Lehmann’s thesis is the idea that expert performance is mediated by acquired mechanisms. Research on mnemonists illustrates this idea. For example, mnemonists with exceptional memory for numbers (SF, DD) have near normal memory for letters. Long-term working memory, and retrieval structures in particular, is the mechanism proposed to account for this type of exceptional memory.



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