How chunks, long-term working memory and templates offer a cognitive explanation for neuroimaging data on expertise acquisition: a two-stage framework

Brain Cogn. 2012 Aug;79(3):221-44. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2012.01.010. Epub 2012 Apr 29.


Our review of research on PET and fMRI neuroimaging of experts and expertise acquisition reveals two apparently discordant patterns in working-memory-related tasks. When experts are involved, studies show activations in brain regions typically activated during long-term memory tasks that are not observed with novices, a result that is compatible with functional brain reorganization. By contrast, when involving novices and training programs, studies show a decrease in brain regions typically activated during working memory tasks, with no functional reorganization. We suggest that the latter result is a consequence of practice periods that do not allow important structures to be completely acquired: knowledge structures (i.e., Ericsson and Kintsch's retrieval structures; Gobet and Simon's templates) and in a lesser way, chunks. These structures allow individuals to improve performance on working-memory tasks, by enabling them to use part of long-term memory as working memory, causing a cerebral functional reorganization. Our hypothesis is that the two brain activation patterns observed in the literature are not discordant, but involve the same process of expertise acquisition in two stages: from decreased activation to brain functional reorganization. The dynamic of these two physiological stages depend on the two above-mentioned psychological constructs: chunks and knowledge structures.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition*
  • Humans
  • Memory, Long-Term / physiology*
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Models, Psychological
  • Psychological Theory