Domain-general cognitive knowledge has frequently been used to explain skill when domain-specific knowledge held in long-term memory may provide a better explanation. An emphasis on domain-general knowledge may be misplaced if domain-specific knowledge is the primary factor driving acquired intellectual skills. We trace the long history of attempts to explain human cognition by placing a primary emphasis on domain-general skills with a reduced emphasis on domain-specific knowledge and indicate how otherwise unintelligible data can be easily explained by assumptions concerning the primacy of domain-specific knowledge. That primacy can be explained by aspects of evolutionary educational psychology. Once the importance of domain-specific knowledge is accepted, instructional design theories and processes are transformed.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Ackerman, P. L. (2000). Domain-specific knowledge as the "Dark matter" of adult intelligence: Gf/Gc, personality and interest correlates. Journals of Gerontology Series B-Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 55, 69–84.
Amadieu, F., Tricot, A., & Mariné, C. (2009). Effects of prior knowledge diversity on learning with a non-linear electronic document: Disorientation and coherence of the reading sequence. Computers in Human Behavior, 25, 381–388. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2008.12.017.
Anzai, Y., & Simon, H. A. (1979). Theory of learning by doing. Psychological Review, 86, 124–140. doi:10.1037//0033-295x.86.2.124.
Atkinson, R. C., & Shiffrin, R. M. (1968). Human memory: A proposed system and its control processes. In K. W. Spence & J. T. Spence (Eds.), The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (Vol. 2, pp. 89–195). New York: Academic Press.
Baddeley, A. D., & Hitch, G. (1974). Working memory. In G. H. Bower (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation: Advances in research and theory (Vol. 8, pp. 47–89). New York: Academic Press.
Bainbridge, L. (1975). Working memory in air-traffic control. Unpublished paper, University of Reading. Retrieved December 11, 2011, from http://www.bainbrdg.demon.co.uk/Papers/WMemory.html.
Binet, A. (1892). Le calculateur Jacques Inaudi [The calculator Jacques Inaudi]. Revue des deux Mondes, 111, 905–924.
Binet, A. (1894). Psychologie des grands calculateurs et joueurs d’échecs [Psychology of great calculators and chess players]. Paris: Hachette.
Bisseret, A. (1970). Mémoire opérationelle et structure du travail [Working memory and work structure]. Bulletin de Psychologie, 24, 280-294. English summary published in 1971: Analysis of mental processes involved in air traffic control. Ergonomics, 14, 565-570.
Brinch, C. N. (2012). Schooling in adolescence raises IQ scores. Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences of The United States of America, 109, 425–430. doi:10.1073/pnas.1106077109.
Cahan, S., & Cohen, N. (1989). Age versus schooling effects on intelligence development. Child Development, 60, 1239–1249. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.1989.tb03554.x.
Chanquoy, L., Tricot, A., & Sweller, J. (2007). La charge cognitive. Paris: Armand Colin.
Chase, W. G., & Ericsson, K. A. (1982). Skill and working memory. In G. H. Bower (Ed.), The psychology of learning and motivation (Vol. 16, pp. 1–58). New York: Academic Press.
Chase, W. G., & Simon, H. A. (1973). Perception in chess. Cognitive Psychology, 4, 55–81. doi:10.1016/0010-0285(73)90004-2.
Chi, M. T. H. (1978). Knowledge structures and memory development. In R. Siegler (Ed.), Children’s thinking: What develops? (pp. 73–96). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Chi, M. T. H. (1993). Experts vs novices knowledge—A citation-classic commentary on categorization and representation of physics problems by experts and novices by Chi, M.T.H., Feltovich, P., Glaser, R. Current Contents/Social & Behavioral Sciences, 42, 8-8.
Chi, M. T. H., Feltovich, P. J., & Glaser, R. (1981). Categorization and representation of physics problems by experts and novices. Cognitive Science, 5, 121–152. doi:10.1207/s15516709cog0502_2.
Chiesi, H. L., Spilich, G. J., & Voss, J. F. (1979). Acquisition of domain-related information in relation to high and low domain knowledge. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 18, 257–273. doi:10.1016/s0022-5371(79)90146-4.
Cliffordson, C., & Gustafsson, J. E. (2008). Effects of age and schooling on intellectual performance: Estimates obtained from analysis of continuous variation in age and length of schooling. Intelligence, 36, 143–152. doi:10.1016/j.intell.2007.03.006.
Conway, A. R. A., Jarrold, C., Kane, M. J., Miyake, A., & Towse, J. (Eds.), (2007). Variation in working memory. Oxford University Press.
Cowan, N. (2005). Working memory capacity. Hove: Psychology Press.
De Groot, A. (1965). Thought and choice in chess. The Hague, The Netherlands: Mouton (Original work published 1946).
Dehaene, S. (1997). The number sense. New York: Oxford University Press.
Duncan, R. G. (2007). The role of domain-specific knowledge in generative reasoning about complicated multileveled phenomena. Cognition & Instruction, 25, 271–336.
Egan, D. E., & Schwartz, B. J. (1979). Chunking in recall of symbolic drawings. Memory & Cognition, 7, 149–158. doi:10.3758/bf03197595.
Ericsson, K. A. (1985). Memory skill. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 39, 188–231. doi:10.1037/h0080059.
Ericsson, K. A., & Charness, N. (1994). Expert performance—Its structure and acquisition. American Psychologist, 49, 725–747. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.49.8.725.
Ericsson, K. A., & Chase, W. G. (1982). Exceptional memory. American Scientist, 70, 607–615.
Ericsson, K. A., & Kintsch, W. (1995). Long-term working-memory. Psychological Review, 102, 211–245. doi:10.1037//0033-295x.102.2.211.
Ericsson, K. A., & Lehmann, A. C. (1996). Expert and exceptional performance: Evidence of maximal adaptation to task constraints. Annual Review of Psychology, 47, 273–305. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.47.1.273.
Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Teschromer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100, 363–406. doi:10.1037/0033-295x.100.3.363.
Fayol, M. (1994). From declarative and procedural knowledge to the management of declarative and procedural knowledge. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 9, 179–190.
Flynn, J. R. (2007). What is intelligence? Beyond the Flynn effect. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Geary, D. C. (2008). An evolutionarily informed education science. Educational Psychologist, 43, 179–195. doi:10.1080/00461520802392133.
Geary, D. C. (2012). Evolutionary educational psychology. In K. Harris, S. Graham, & T. Urdan (Eds.), APA educational psychology handbook (Vol. 1, pp. 597–621). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Gijlers, H., & de Jong, T. (2005). The relation between prior knowledge and students’ collaborative discovery learning processes. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42, 264–282. doi:10.1002/tea.20056.
Greiff, S., Wüstenberg, S., Molnar, G., Fischer, A., Funke, J., & Csapo, B. (2013). Complex problem solving in educational settings—Something beyond g: Concept, assessment, measurement invariance, and construct validity. Journal of Educational Psychology, 105, 364–379. doi:10.1037/a0031856.
Herrnstein, R. J., & Murray, C. (1994). The Bell curve: Intelligence and class structure in American life. New York: Free Press.
Jeffries, R., Turner, A., Polson, P., & Atwood, M. (1981). Processes involved in designing software. In J. R. Anderson (Ed.), Cognitive skills and their acquisition (pp. 255–283). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Kalyuga, S., Chandler, P., Tuovinen, J., & Sweller, J. (2001). When problem solving is superior to studying worked examples. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 579–588. doi:10.1037/0022-06126.96.36.1999.
Kirschner, P., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41, 75–86.
Larkin, J. H., McDermott, J., Simon, D. P., & Simon, H. A. (1980). Models of competence in solving physics problems. Cognitive Science, 4, 317–345. doi:10.1207/s15516709cog0404_1.
Mandelbaum, E. (2013). Numerical architecture. Topics in Cognitive Science, 5, 367–386. doi:10.1111/tops.12014.
Mayer, R. E., Mathias, A., & Wetzell, K. (2002). Fostering understanding of multimedia messages through pre-training: Evidence for a two-stage theory of mental model construction. Journal of Experimental Psychology Applied, 8, 147–154. doi:10.1037//1076-898x.8.3.147.
Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63, 81–97.
Miller, G. A., Galanter, E., & Pribram, K. H. (1960). Plans and the structure of behavior. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Neisser, U., Boodoo, G., Bouchard, T. J., Boykin, A. W., Brody, N., Ceci, S. J., et al. (1996). Intelligence: Knowns and unknowns. American Psychologist, 51, 77–101. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.51.2.77.
Newell, A., & Simon, H. A. (1972). Human problem solving. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Nicolas, S., Gounden, Y., & Levine, Z. (2011). The memory of two great mental calculators: Charcot and Binet’s neglected 1893 experiments. American Journal of Psychology, 124, 235–242.
Paas, F., & Sweller, J. (2012). An evolutionary upgrade of cognitive load theory: Using the human motor system and collaboration to support the learning of complex cognitive tasks. Educational Psychology Review, 24, 27–45. doi:10.1007/s10648-011-9179-2.
Piaget, J. (1972). Intellectual evolution from adolescence to adulthood. Human Development, 15, 1–12.
Pollock, E., Chandler, P., & Sweller, J. (2002). Assimilating complex information. Learning & Instruction, 12, 61–86. doi:10.1016/s0959-4752(01)00016-0.
Rikers, R.M.J.P. (2009). Why is not everyone Albert Einstein? Implications of expertise research for educational practice. Cognitive Load Theory Conference, Open University of The Netherlands, Heerlen, March 2-4.
Schneider, W., Korkel, J., & Weinert, F. E. (1989). Domain-specific knowledge and memory performance: A comparison of high- and low-aptitude children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81, 306–312. doi:10.1037/0022-06188.8.131.526.
Simon, H. A., & Gilmarti, K. (1973). Simulation of memory for chess positions. Cognitive Psychology, 5, 29–46. doi:10.1016/0010-0285(73)90024-8.
Simon, D. P., & Simon, H. A. (1978). Individual differences in solving physics problems. In R. Siegler (Ed.), Children’s thinking: What develops? (pp. 325–348). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Stein, E. S., Garland, D. J., & Muller, J. K. (2010). Air-traffic controller memory. In J.A. Wise, V.D. Hopkin, & D.J. Garland (Eds.). Handbook of aviation human factors (2nd Edition). (pp. 21-1–21-39). Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Stelzl, I., Merz, F., Ehlers, T., & Remer, H. (1995). The effect of schooling on the development of fluid and crystallized intelligence: A quasi-experimental study. Intelligence, 21, 279–296. doi:10.1016/0160-2896(95)90018-7.
Sweller, J. (2011). Cognitive load theory. In J. Mestre & B. Ross (Eds.), The psychology of learning and motivation: Cognition in education (Vol. 55, pp. 37–76). Oxford: Academic Press.
Sweller, J. (2012). Human cognitive architecture: Why some instructional procedures work and others do not. In K. Harris, S. Graham, & T. Urdan (Eds.), APA educational psychology handbook (Vol. 1, pp. 295–325). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
Sweller, J., & Cooper, G. (1985). The use of worked examples as a substitute for problem solving in learning algebra. Cognition & Instruction, 2, 59–89.
Sweller, J., & Sweller, S. (2006). Natural information processing systems. Evolutionary Psychology, 4, 434–458.
Sweller, J., Ayres, P., & Kalyuga, S. (2011). Cognitive load theory. New York: Springer.
Yntema, D. B. (1963). Keeping track of several things at once. Human Factors, 5, 7–17.
Yntema, D. B., & Mueser, G. E. (1960). Remembering the present states of a number of variables. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 60, 18–22. doi:10.1037/h0040055.
Yntema, D. B., & Mueser, G. E. (1962). Keeping track of variables that have few or many states. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 63, 391–395. doi:10.1037/h0045706.
Youssef, A., Ayres, P., & Sweller, J. (2012). Using general problem-solving strategies to generate ideas in order to solve geography problems. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 26, 872–877. doi:10.1002/acp.2888.
About this article
Cite this article
Tricot, A., Sweller, J. Domain-Specific Knowledge and Why Teaching Generic Skills Does Not Work. Educ Psychol Rev 26, 265–283 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-013-9243-1
- Domain-specific knowledge
- General skills
- Cognitive load theory