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

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

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  • 1Institut de Psychologie, Universit√© Paris Descartes, Boulogne Billancourt, France.


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.

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