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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: June 2012

13 - Protocol Analysis and Expert Thought: Concurrent Verbalizations of Thinking during Experts' Performance on Representative Tasks


The superior skills of experts, such as accomplished musicians and chess masters, can be amazing to most spectators. For example, club-level chess players are often puzzled by the chess moves of grandmasters and world champions. Similarly, many recreational athletes find it inconceivable that most other adults – regardless of the amount or type of training – have the potential ever to reach the performance levels of international competitors. Especially puzzling to philosophers and scientists has been the question of the extent to which expertise requires innate gifts versus specialized acquired skills and abilities.

One of the most widely used and simplest methods of gathering data on exceptional performance is to interview the experts themselves. But are experts always capable of describing their thoughts, their behaviors, and their strategies in a manner that would allow less-skilled individuals to understand how the experts do what they do, and perhaps also understand how they might reach expert level through appropriate training? To date, there has been considerable controversy over the extent to which experts are capable of explaining the nature and structure of their exceptional performance. Some pioneering scientists, such as Binet (1893/1966), questioned the validity of the experts' descriptions when they found that some experts gave reports inconsistent with those of other experts. To make matters worse, in those rare cases that allowed verification of the strategy by observing the performance, discrepancies were found between the reported strategies and the observations (Watson, 1913).

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