The training and transfer of real-world perceptual expertise

Psychol Sci. 2005 Feb;16(2):145-51. doi: 10.1111/j.0956-7976.2005.00795.x.


A hallmark of perceptual expertise is that experts classify objects at a more specific, subordinate level of abstraction than novices. To what extent does subordinate-level learning contribute to the transfer of perceptual expertise to novel exemplars and novel categories? In this study, participants learned to classify 10 varieties of wading birds and 10 varieties of owls at either the subordinate, species (e.g., "great blue crown heron,""eastern screech owl") or the family ("wading bird,""owl") level of abstraction. During training, the amount of visual exposure was equated such that participants received an equal number of learning trials for wading birds and owls. Pre- and posttraining performance was measured in a same/different discrimination task in which participants judged whether pairs of bird stimuli belonged to the same or different species. Participants trained in species-level discrimination demonstrated greater transfer to novel exemplars and novel species categories than participants trained in family-level discrimination. These findings suggest that perceptual categorization, not perceptual exposure per se, is important for the development and generalization of visual expertise.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Attention
  • Birds
  • Discrimination Learning*
  • Female
  • Generalization, Stimulus*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Practice, Psychological*
  • Problem Solving*
  • Species Specificity
  • Strigiformes
  • Students / psychology
  • Transfer, Psychology*