The expert advantage for the recall and recognition of structured patterns is well established in the literature (Chase & Simon, 1973; Garland & Barry, 1991) and yet many of the underlying mechanisms that contribute to this perceptual-cognitive skill have not been fully elucidated (Williams & Ericsson, 2005). This thesis was designed to further extend the extant knowledge base surrounding expert performance by examining the underlying mechanisms and functional role of expert recall and recognition of natural visual patterns of movement in a dynamic, complex, and time-constrained domain. To achieve this outcome, a series of three experiments were conducted with the intention of addressing three key aims. The first aim was to identify the specific features within a structured pattern that are most critical for expert performance, as well as attempting to isolate the ways in which the pattern information is encoded into memory. The second aim was to investigate the extent to which expert pattern perception contributes to performance on more representative tasks such as decision-making. The third and final aim was to determine whether the anticipatory nature of an expert‟s pattern perception skills are able to transfer between similarly structured domains.
Using the fundamentally dynamic domain of team-sports as the primary model, expert and lesser skilled players from the sport of basketball were compared across three different experimental tasks including pattern recognition, pattern recall, and decision-making. In Experiment 1 (see Gorman, Abernethy, & Farrow, 2011), participants were required to either identify differences between pairs of patterns presented in quick succession (short-term recognition task), or identify previously viewed patterns from amongst a series of new patterns (long-term recognition task) (see also Didierjean & Marmèche, 2005). The results for the short-term task showed that both expert and recreational level players intuitively anticipated the patterns when they were presented as moving video images, but only the experts appeared to have the capability to apply a similar anticipatory process when the patterns were presented as schematic images. Contrary to previous research (i.e., Didierjean & Marmèche, 2005), the anticipatory effect was isolated to the short-term task, possibly due to interference created by the experimental design of the long-term task. The results from a group of skilled soccer players failed to reveal any evidence of an anticipatory encoding of the patterns. In Experiment 2 (see Gorman, Abernethy, & Farrow, 2012; Gorman, Abernethy, & Farrow, 2013a), experts and novices completed recall and decision-making tasks using static and moving images. A novel method of recall analysis revealed a significantly greater anticipatory effect for experts compared to novices across both display types with the expert advantage being most pronounced for recall of the attacking pattern elements. The results from visual search data revealed that recall skill was only weakly related to performance on the decision-making task.
Regression analyses showed that the use of anticipatory recall scores provided a marginal improvement on the strength of the relationship between recall and decision-making. Finally, Experiment 3 (see Gorman, Abernethy, & Farrow, 2013b) examined the influence of attentional focus on the nature of the memory encodings. The results showed that not only were the experts able to recall the locations of the attacking and defending players with significantly less error than the novices, but the experts‟ recall of the attacking positions remained unchanged both with and without attention. In addition, the experts anticipated the subsequent movements of the players within the patterns significantly further into the future than the novices, irrespective of the attentional focus.
Collectively, the findings provided strong evidence to show that expert pattern perception is inherently anticipatory in nature. When experts are presented with a structured pattern extracted from their domain, they appear to use their experiential knowledge to predict the subsequent movements of the elements within the image. There was also evidence to suggest that the anticipatory encoding of the patterns may be linked to the capability to select an appropriate decision although the limited number of shared processes between pattern recall and decision-making indicated that pattern perception skills may provide only a small proportion of the perceptual-cognitive processes used by experts in the natural setting (Farrow, McCrae, Gross, & Abernethy, 2010). The locations of the attacking players appear to provide an important source of pattern information for both experts and novices but only experts have the necessary capabilities to interpret the underlying meaning of the attacking structures. The expert advantage persisted both in the presence or absence of attention and appeared to be most pronounced when the patterns were presented using moving images that better replicated the characteristically dynamic nature of the typical team-sport domain. There was no evidence to demonstrate that the anticipatory nature of pattern perception would transfer between similarly structured team-sports. The results provide an important contribution to the existing knowledge base surrounding the mechanisms that underpin expert pattern perception.