Memory & Cognition

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 194–209 | Cite as

Individual differences in expertise development over decades in a complex intellectual domain



Learners acquire expertise at different rates and reach different peak performance levels. Key questions arise regarding what patterns of individual differences in expertise development occur and whether innate talent affects such development. International chess is a good test domain for both issues, because it has objective performance measures, actual practice measures (number of games), longitudinal population data, and minimal gatekeeper influence. Players’ expertise development typically follows either a logarithmic or a power-function curve, approaching asymptote by around 750 games. A comparison of eventual top players and other eventually well-practiced players typically reveals a performance difference at domain entry, which widens progressively with practice and then stays large and constant. The data show various correlated signs of apparent greater natural talent in eventual top players: precocity (indexed by entering the domain and gaining the grandmaster title much younger on average), faster acquisition of expertise (indexed by fewer years and games needed to gain the grandmaster title from domain entry), and a higher peak performance level after extensive actual practice. A factor analysis found evidence for an underlying natural talent factor that constrains ultimate performance level.


  1. Ackerman, P. L. (2007). New developments in understanding skilled performance. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 235–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ackerman, P. L., & Beier, M. E. (2006). Methods for studying the structure of expertise: Psychometric approaches. In K. A. Ericsson, N. Charness, R. R. Hoffman, & P. J. Feltovich (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance (pp. 147–165). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Ackerman, P. L., & Cianciolo, A. T. (2000). Cognitive, perceptualspeed, and psychomotor determinants of individual differences during skill acquisition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 6, 259–290.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baltes, P. B. (1998). Testing the limits of the ontogenetic sources of talent and excellence. Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 21, 407–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baltes, P. B., & Kliegl, R. (1992). Further testing of limits of cognitive plasticity: Negative age differences in a mnemonic skill are robust. Developmental Psychology, 28, 121–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barron, F., & Harrington, D. M. (1981). Creativity, intelligence, and personality. Annual Review of Psychology, 32, 439–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bilalic, M., McLeod, P., & Gobet, F. (2007). Does chess need intelligence?—A study with young chess players. Intelligence, 35, 457–470.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Charness, N., Krampe, R., & Mayr, U. (1996). The role of practice and coaching in entrepreneurial skill domains: An international comparison of life-span chess skill acquisition. In K. A. Ericsson (Ed.), The road to excellence: The acquisition of expert performance in the arts and sciences, sports, and games (pp. 51–80). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  9. Charness, N., Tuffiash, M., Krampe, R., Reingold, E., & Vasyukova, E. (2005). The role of deliberate practice in chess expertise. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19, 151–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chase, W. G., & Simon, H. A. (1973). Perception in chess. Cognitive Psychology, 4, 55–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Deakin, J. M., Cote, J., & Harvey, A. S. (2006). Time budgets, diaries, and analyses of concurrent practice activities. In K. A. Ericsson, N. Charness, R. R. Hoffman, & P. J. Feltovich (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance (pp. 303–318). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. De Bruin, A. B. H., Rikers, R. M. J. P., & Schmidt, H. G. (2007). The influence of achievement motivation and chess-specific motivation on deliberate practice. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 29, 561–583.Google Scholar
  13. Detterman, D. K., Gabriel, L. T., & Ruthsatz, J. M. (1998). Absurd environmentalism. Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 21, 411–412.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Detterman, D. K., & Spry, K. M. (1988). Is it smart to play the horses? Comment on “A day at the races: A study of IQ, expertise and cognitive complexity” (Ceci & Liker, 1986). Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 117, 91–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Di Prete, T. A., & Eirich, G. M. (2006). Cumulative advantage as a mechanism for inequality: A review of theoretical and empirical developments. Annual Review of Sociology, 32, 271–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Djakow, I. N., Petrowski, N. W., & Rudik, P. A. (1927). Psychologie des Schachspiels. Berlin: de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  17. Doll, J., & Mayr, U. (1987). Intelligenz und Schachleistung-Eine Untersuchung an Schachexperten. Psychologische Beiträge, 29, 270–289.Google Scholar
  18. Downey, J. E., & Anderson, J. E. (1917). Retention of skill after lapse of practice: Simultaneous reading and writing. American Journal of Psychology, 28, 396–408.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Elo, A. E. (1986). The rating of chess players, past and present (2nd ed.). New York: Arco.Google Scholar
  20. Ericsson, K. A. (2006). The influence of experience and deliberate practice on the development of superior expert performance. In K. A. Ericsson, N. Charness, R. R. Hoffman, & P. J. Feltovich (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance (pp. 683–703). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Ericsson, K. A., & Charness, N. (1994). Expert performance: Its structure and acquisition. American Psychologist, 49, 725–747.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ericsson, K. A., Nandagopal, K., & Roring, R. W. (2005). Giftedness viewed from the expert-performance perspective. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 28, 287–311.Google Scholar
  23. Ericsson, K. A., Roring, R. W., & Nandagopal, K. (2007). Giftedness and evidence for reproducibly superior performance: An account based on the expert performance framework. High Ability Studies, 18, 3–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Ericsson, K. A., & Ward, P. (2007). Capturing the naturally occurring superior performance of experts in the laboratory: Toward a science of expert and exceptional performance. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 346–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Ferrales, G., & Fine, G. A. (2005). Sociology as a vocation: Reputations and group cultures in graduate school. American Sociologist, 36, 57–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Frydman, M., & Lynn, R. (1992). The general intelligence and spatial abilities of gifted young Belgian chess players. British Journal of Psychology, 83, 233–235.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Gagné, F. (2007). Predictably, an unconvincing second attempt. High Ability Studies, 18, 67–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Galton, F. (1979). Hereditary genius: An inquiry into its laws and consequences. London: Julian Freeman. (Original work published 1869)Google Scholar
  29. Gardner, H. (1995). “expert performance: Its structure and acquisition”: Comment. American Psychologist, 50, 802–803.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Gould, D., Dieffenbach, K., & Moffett, A. (2002). Psychological characteristics and their development in Olympic champions. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 14, 172–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Grabner, R. H., Neubauer, A. C., & Stern, E. (2006). Superior performance and neural efficiency: The impact of intelligence and expertise. Brain Research Bulletin, 69, 422–439.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Grabner, R. H., Stern, E., & Neubauer, A. C. (2007). Individual differences in chess expertise: A psychometric investigation. Acta Psychologica, 124, 398–420.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gregory, R. J. (2004). Psychological testing: History, principles, and applications. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  34. Heathcote, A., Brown, S., & Mewhort, D. J. K. (2000). The power law repealed: The case for an exponential law of practice. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 7, 185–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hodges, N. J., & Starkes, J. L. (1996). Wrestling with the nature of expertise: A sport specific test of Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Römer’s (1993) theory of “deliberate practice.” International Journal of Sport Psychology, 27, 400–424.Google Scholar
  36. Horgan, D. D., & Morgan, D. (1990). Chess expertise in children. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 4, 109–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Howard, R. W. (1995). Learning and memory: Major ideas, principles, issues and applications. Westport, CT: Praeger.Google Scholar
  38. Howard, R. W. (2005). Objective evidence of rising population ability: A detailed examination of longitudinal chess data. Personality & Individual Differences, 38, 347–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Howard, R. W. (2006). A complete database of international chess players and performance ratings for varied longitudinal studies. Behavior Research Methods, 38, 698–703.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Howe, M. J. A., Davidson, J. W., & Sloboda, J. A. (1998). Innate talents: Reality or myth. Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 21, 399–442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hunt, E. (1995). The role of intelligence in modern society. American Scientist, 83, 356–368.Google Scholar
  42. Hunt, E. (2006). Expertise, talent and social encouragement. In K. A. Ericsson, N. Charness, R. R. Hoffman, & P. J. Feltovich (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of expertise and expert performance (pp. 31–38). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Kim, K. H. (2005). Can only intelligent people be creative? A metaanalysis. Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, 16, 57–66.Google Scholar
  44. Krogius, N. V. (1976). Psychology in chess. Albertson, NY: RHM Press.Google Scholar
  45. McIntire, S. A., & Miller, L. A. (2000). Foundations of psychological testing: A practical approach. New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  46. Newell, A., & Rosenbloom, P. S. (1981). Mechanisms of skill acquisition and the law of practice. In J. R. Anderson (Ed.), Cognitive skills and their acquisition (pp. 1–56). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  47. Ree, M. J., & Earles, M. (1991). Predicting training success: Not much more than g. Personnel Psychology, 44, 321–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Roring, R. W., & Charness, N. (2007). A multilevel model analysis of expertise in chess across the life span. Psychology & Aging, 22, 291–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Ross, P. E. (2006). The expert mind. Scientific American, 295, 64–71.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Schmidt, F. L., & Hunter, J. E. (1998). The validity and utility of selection methods in personnel psychology: Practical and theoretical implications of 85 years of research findings. Psychological Bulletin, 124, 262–274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Shrager, J., Hogg, T., & Huberman, B. A. (1988). A graph-dynamic model of the power law of practice and the problem-solving fan-effect. Science, 242, 414–416.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Simonton, D. K. (1997). Creative productivity: A predictive and explanatory model of career trajectories and landmarks. Psychological Review, 104, 66–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Simonton, D. K. (1999). Talent and its development: An emergenic and epigenetic model. Psychological Review, 106, 435–457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Simonton, D. K. (2000). Creative development as acquired expertise: Theoretical issues and an empirical test. Developmental Review, 20, 283–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Simonton, D. K. (2007). Cinema composers: Career trajectories for creative productivity in film music. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, & the Arts, 1, 160–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Simonton, D. K. (2008). Scientific talent, training and performance: Intellect, personality, and genetic endowment. Review of General Psychology, 12, 28–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Smyth, M. M. (1975). The role of mental practice in skill acquisition. Journal of Motor Behavior, 7, 199–206.Google Scholar
  58. Der Spiegel (1987). Genieblitze und Blackouts: Der Spiegel testete Intelligenz, Gedächtnis, und Schachkunst Garri Kasparows. [Strokes of genius and blackouts: Der Spiegel tests the intelligence, memory, and chess ability of Garry Kasparov]. Der Spiegel, 41, 126–140.Google Scholar
  59. Sternberg, R. J. (1996). Costs of expertise. In K. A. Ericsson (Ed.), The road to excellence: The acquisition of expert performance in the arts and sciences, sports, and games (pp. 347–354). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  60. Talwar, G. P., & Srivastava, L. M. (2004). Textbook of biochemistry and human biology (3rd ed.). New Delhi: PHI Learning.Google Scholar
  61. Wargo, E. (2006, August). The myth of prodigy and why it matters. APS Observer, 19. Retrieved November 18, 2008, from www Scholar
  62. Waters, A. J., Gobet, F., & Leyden, G. (2002). Visuospatial abilities of chess players. British Journal of Psychology, 93, 557–565.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationUniversity of New South WalesSydneyAustralia

Personalised recommendations