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Visual expertise: Insights gained by comparing professional populations

Clark, Kait; Biggs, Adam T; Darling, Elise F; Cain, Matthew S; Jackson, Tate H; Samei, Ehsan; Baker, Jay A; Mitroff, Stephen R


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Dr Kait Clark
Lecturer in Psychology (Cognitive and Neuro)

Adam T Biggs

Elise F Darling

Matthew S Cain

Tate H Jackson

Ehsan Samei

Jay A Baker

Stephen R Mitroff


Professionals whose careers depend on visual skills typically demonstrate superior performance on career-related tasks; farmers better determine the sex of day-old chicks (Biederman & Shiffrar, 1987), and bank tellers better detect counterfeit currency (Klein, Gadbois, & Christie, 2004). Perceptual expertise has implications for learning and malleability, but the interpretation of expertise benefits is not straightforward. Complications arise, in part, because standard methodologies typically compare professionals to laypersons, raising concerns about confounding differences (e.g., motivation, speed/accuracy tradeoff, self-selection). Additionally, the mechanisms responsible for improvement may be ambiguous (e.g., enhanced sensory discrimination vs. improved strategies). To account for these issues, we analyzed performance across different professional groups on tasks related and unrelated to their careers. We assessed two groups of visual search experts (radiologists, airport security screeners), one group of facial symmetry experts (orthodontists), and one non-professional group (university participants). As expected, the professional groups demonstrated superior accuracy for career-related tasks (radiologists and airport security screeners for search, orthodontists for facial symmetry), and additional comparisons provided further insight. To evaluate potential differences in motivation, we compared performance on a task unrelated to the professionals’ expertise—temporal order judgment—and found no accuracy differences between professionals and non-professionals. Relatedly, comparisons between professional groups minimized speed/accuracy tradeoff concerns; professionals were slower on all tasks but only showed enhanced accuracy for career-relevant tasks. To elucidate whether benefits arose from self-selection or experience, we compared early- versus late-career individuals within the same profession and found differences related to amount of experience. Finally, we explored the nature of experts’ improvements and found evidence supporting superior top-down strategy selection (search professionals choose more effective strategies) as well as bottom-up stimulus-specific processing (orthodontists revealed enhanced symmetry discrimination for faces only). By comparing different types of experts on multiple tasks, we can better inform the nature of visual expertise.

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Start Date May 1, 2013
Publication Date Aug 1, 2013
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
APA6 Citation Clark, K., Biggs, A. T., Darling, E. F., Cain, M. S., Jackson, T. H., Samei, E., …Mitroff, S. R. (2013, May). Visual expertise: Insights gained by comparing professional populations. Paper presented at Vision Sciences Society
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Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : Vision Sciences Society