Pattern recognition and recall paradigms are the concepts, theories, and methods that are typically used to examine and explain the underlying mechanisms contributing to the capability of performers to recognize and/or recall information from their domain. A vast amount of evidence has demonstrated that experienced performers are better than novices at recalling the locations of “elements” (i.e., the individual items that comprise a pattern) from a pattern that is presented for only a relatively brief period of time. Similarly, experienced performers can also recognize a previously seen pattern from among previously unseen patterns with accuracy that surpasses lesser-skilled individuals. The theoretical explanations surrounding these attributes are important for helping better understand the methods in which experts (including expert sportspeople) from a range of domains utilize perceptual information as well as assisting in the design and implementation of practical applications for enhancing the perceptual– cognitive skills of lesser-skilled individuals. This entry provides information on the basic theoretical principles used to explain experts’ superiority in pattern recognition and recall tasks. Much of this theorizing has arisen from outside the classical sport domain in other domains such as chess.
The results from research conducted by Adriaan de Groot in the mid-1900s on chess experts are frequently cited as some of the more influential findings in the area. He showed that experienced chess players could recall the locations of chess pieces from only brief viewings of chess boards with extraordinary accuracy compared to that achieved by lower-level players. While this proved to be an interesting finding in itself, subsequent work by William Chase and Herbert Simon in 1973 showed that the superiority of the experienced players was apparent only when the pieces were arranged in configurations that were typical of actual game play. They showed that when the pieces were placed in more random configurations that were less typical of a normal game, the recall performance of the highly skilled players deteriorated to a point where it was largely indistinguishable from that of the lower-level players. The latter finding was of primary importance because it suggested that skilled recall performance is not necessarily based upon a generalized memory advantage. Chase and Simon suggested that the experienced players had acquired the capability to link particular chess piece locations together so they could be encoded into short-term memory (STM) as small clusters of information. This method of encoding essentially lightened the load on STM by reducing the large number of individual chess pieces that had to be memorized into a smaller subset of pieces. (See the entry “Chunking/Dechunking,” this volume.)
Since the development of this theoretical framework, further research has shown that experts can continue to recall large amounts of information under conditions where STM capacity is likely to be overwhelmed. This prompted a paradigm shift with contemporary memory-based theories such as Fernand Gobet and Herbert Simon’s template theory in 1996 and the long-term working memory theory of K. Anders Ericsson and Walter Kintsch in 1995, emphasizing a more prominent role for long-term memory (LTM). The exact nature of the underlying mechanisms that are proposed varies across the two theories, but the general consensus suggests that after extensive experience in their domain, experts acquire unique and task-specific structures in LTM that allow patterns to be rapidly stored and retrieved without exceeding the capacity of STM. In short, information can be directly encoded into LTM with links and associations created between similar sources of information. Consequently, when a domain-specific pattern is observed (e.g., a defensive setup in basketball), the configurations of elements within the pattern (i.e., player locations) generate cues that rapidly associate the observed pattern with other patterns in LTM (e.g., recognizing the pattern as a zone defense), allowing the necessary information to be quickly stored and then accessed as required.
An alternative theoretical approach, termed the constraint attunement hypothesis, was developed by Kim Vicente and JoAnne Wang in 1998. This approach downplayed the role of memory as the primary mediator of expert performance in recognition and recall tasks and instead highlighted the importance of the environment. They proposed that skilled performers do not necessarily rely upon pattern representations stored in memory but rather experts learn to closely attend to the naturally occurring relationships that exist within thetypical performance environment. After extensive exposure to the critical environmental features (e.g., rules and tactics) that influence the movements of elements in a typical pattern, experts learn to accurately identify the pattern structures that are common to their domain. However, when the patterns are less structured and more randomly arranged, the relationships between the pattern elements are altered. As a consequence, the pattern information becomes less familiar and so the capability of the experts to accurately recognize and/or recall the patterns under such circumstances is also reduced.
Historically, the majority of the extant research investigating pattern recognition and recall has primarily focused upon memory-based paradigms although the precise mechanisms underlying these and other theoretical frameworks, such as the constraint attunement hypothesis, are a source of continued debate. Despite this, a common theme across all theories is that skilled performers develop the unique capability to extract information from sport-specific patterns and play configurations, allowing them to accurately and rapidly recognize and/or recall these patterns when the situation demands.
- Charness, N. (1976). Memory for chess positions: Resistance to interference. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Learning and Memory, 2, 641–653.
- Chase, W. G., & Simon, H. A. (1973). Perception in chess. Cognitive Psychology, 4, 55–81. de Groot, A. D. (1965). Thought and choice in chess. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton.
- Ericsson, K. A., & Kintsch, W. (1995). Long-term working memory. Psychological Review, 102, 211–245.
- Gobet, F., & Simon, H. A. (1996). Templates in chess memory: A mechanism for recalling several boards. Cognitive Psychology, 31, 1–40.
- Vicente, K. J., & Wang, J. H. (1998). An ecological theory of expertise effects in memory recall. Psychological Review, 105, 33–57.