Inflexibility of experts--reality or myth? Quantifying the Einstellung effect in chess masters.

Cognitive psychology

PubMedID: 17418112

Bilalic M, McLeod P, Gobet F. Inflexibility of experts--reality or myth? Quantifying the Einstellung effect in chess masters. Cogn Psychol. 2008;56(2):73-102.
How does the knowledge of experts affect their behaviour in situations that require unusual methods of dealing? One possibility, loosely originating in research on creativity and skill acquisition, is that an increase in expertise can lead to inflexibility of thought due to automation of procedures. Yet another possibility, based on expertise research, is that experts' knowledge leads to flexibility of thought. We tested these two possibilities in a series of experiments using the Einstellung (set) effect paradigm. Chess players tried to solve problems that had both a familiar but non-optimal solution and a better but less familiar one. The more familiar solution induced the Einstellung (set) effect even in experts, preventing them from finding the optimal solution. The presence of the non-optimal solution reduced experts' problem solving ability was reduced to about that of players three standard deviations lower in skill level by the presence of the non-optimal solution. Inflexibility of thought induced by prior knowledge (i.e., the blocking effect of the familiar solution) was shown by experts but the more expert they were, the less prone they were to the effect. Inflexibility of experts is both reality and myth. But the greater the level of expertise, the more of a myth it becomes.