The Psychology of Abilities, Competencies, and Expertise

The Psychology of Abilities, Competencies, and Expertise

The Psychology of Abilities, Competencies, and Expertise

The Psychology of Abilities, Competencies, and Expertise


The goal of this book is to characterize the nature of abilities, competencies, and expertise, and to understand the relations among them. The book therefore seeks to integrate into a coherent discipline what formerly have been, to a large extent, three separate disciplines. Such integration makes both theoretical and practical sense, because abilities represent potentials to achieve competencies, and ultimately, expertise. Authors of each chapter (a) present their views on the nature of abilities, competencies, and expertise; (b) present their views on the interrelationships among these three constructs; (c) state their views on how these three constructs can be assessed and developed; (d) present empirical data supporting their position; (e) compare and contrast their position to alternative positions, showing why they believe their position to be preferred; and (f) speculate on the implications of their viewpoint for science, education, and society.


Some people study abilities, some study expertise, but few study both. Traditionally, the study of abilities has been seen as relatively distinct from the study of expertise, and the literatures that have developed in these two areas are largely distinct as well.

Ability theorists have argued about alternative factorial, process, biological, contextual, or other models of expertise, but, with few exceptions (such as Howard Gardner), have drawn only sparse links between their studies and studies of expert performance. Individuals with high levels of expertise are simply assumed to have developed these high levels of expertise as a function of their high levels of abilities.

Expertise theorists have argued about what it is that makes someone an expert, such as outstanding information processing or a highly organized knowledge base, or they have argued about how expertise is acquired, for example, through deliberate practice or skilled apprenticeship. They have failed to consider fully the role of expertise in the development and maintenance of expertise, and indeed, few expertise theorists have used any tests of abilities in their research.

Competencies often have been viewed as an end point in the study of abilities (for example, as providing criteria against which measures of abilities are validated) or as a beginning point in the study of expertise (for example, as providing a baseline for novices, or at least, nonexperts, against which expertise performance can be compared). Competency theorists have sometimes linked their work to abilities, and sometimes to expertise, but rarely to both.

The result of this separation among the studies of abilities, competencies, and expertise is that the field of psychology lacks relatively . . .

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