Mechanisms and neural basis of object and pattern recognition: a study with chess experts

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2010 Nov;139(4):728-42. doi: 10.1037/a0020756.


Comparing experts with novices offers unique insights into the functioning of cognition, based on the maximization of individual differences. Here we used this expertise approach to disentangle the mechanisms and neural basis behind two processes that contribute to everyday expertise: object and pattern recognition. We compared chess experts and novices performing chess-related and -unrelated (visual) search tasks. As expected, the superiority of experts was limited to the chess-specific task, as there were no differences in a control task that used the same chess stimuli but did not require chess-specific recognition. The analysis of eye movements showed that experts immediately and exclusively focused on the relevant aspects in the chess task, whereas novices also examined irrelevant aspects. With random chess positions, when pattern knowledge could not be used to guide perception, experts nevertheless maintained an advantage. Experts' superior domain-specific parafoveal vision, a consequence of their knowledge about individual domain-specific symbols, enabled improved object recognition. Functional magnetic resonance imaging corroborated this differentiation between object and pattern recognition and showed that chess-specific object recognition was accompanied by bilateral activation of the occipitotemporal junction, whereas chess-specific pattern recognition was related to bilateral activations in the middle part of the collateral sulci. Using the expertise approach together with carefully chosen controls and multiple dependent measures, we identified object and pattern recognition as two essential cognitive processes in expert visual cognition, which may also help to explain the mechanisms of everyday perception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Exploratory Behavior / physiology*
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Problem Solving / physiology
  • Professional Competence
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*