Expertise with unfamiliar objects is flexible to changes in task but not changes in class

Searston, Rachel A. and Tangen, Jason M. (2017) Expertise with unfamiliar objects is flexible to changes in task but not changes in class. Plos One, 12 6: . doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0178403

Author Searston, Rachel A.
Tangen, Jason M.
Title Expertise with unfamiliar objects is flexible to changes in task but not changes in class
Journal name Plos One   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 1932-6203
Publication date 2017-06-02
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0178403
Open Access Status DOI
Volume 12
Issue 6
Total pages 14
Place of publication San Francisco, CA, United States
Publisher Public Library of Science
Language eng
Abstract Perceptual expertise is notoriously specific and bound by familiarity; generalizing to novel or unfamiliar images, objects, identities, and categories often comes at some cost to performance. In forensic and security settings, however, examiners are faced with the task of discriminating unfamiliar images of unfamiliar objects within their general domain of expertise (e.g., fingerprints, faces, or firearms). The job of a fingerprint expert, for instance, is to decide whether two unfamiliar fingerprint images were left by the same unfamiliar finger (e.g., Smith's left thumb), or two different unfamiliar fingers (e.g., Smith and Jones's left thumb). Little is known about the limits of this kind of perceptual expertise. Here, we examine fingerprint experts' and novices' ability to distinguish fingerprints compared to inverted faces in two different tasks. Inverted face images serve as an ideal comparison because they vary naturally between and within identities, as do fingerprints, and people tend to be less accurate or more novice-like at distinguishing faces when they are presented in an inverted or unfamiliar orientation. In Experiment 1, fingerprint experts outperformed novices in locating categorical fingerprint outliers (i.e., a loop pattern in an array of whorls), but not inverted face outliers (i.e., an inverted male face in an array of inverted female faces). In Experiment 2, fingerprint experts were more accurate than novices at discriminating matching and mismatching fingerprints that were presented very briefly, but not so for inverted faces. Our data show that perceptual expertise with fingerprints can be flexible to changing task demands, but there can also be abrupt limits: fingerprint expertise did not generalize to an unfamiliar class of stimuli. We interpret these findings as evidence that perceptual expertise with unfamiliar objects is highly constrained by one's experience.
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
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School of Psychology Publications
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