On Being an Expert: A Cost-Benefit Analysis
Robert J. Sternberg and Peter A. Frensch
Everyone knows, or at least believes, that it is a good thing to be an expert. Experts within a given field are the ones who are respected, cited, and sought out. They can attain money as well as renown for their expertise, and some experts bask almost indefinitely in the fame and fortune their expertise brings them.
A large literature exists to show the benefits of expertise. Indeed, a recent volume ( Chi, Glaser, & Farr, 1989) is devoted exclusively to the nature of expertise. Many studies have been conducted that attempt to show just what it is that experts do better than novices in a wide variety of domains, such as chess ( Charness, 1981; Chase & Simon, 1973; de Groot, 1965); bridge ( Charness, 1979; Engle & Bukstel, 1978); medicine ( Elstein, Shulman, & Sprafka, 1978); typewriting ( Gentner, 1989; Rabbitt, 1978); physics ( Larkin, McDermott, Simon, & Simon, 1980); and mathematics ( Schoenfeld & Herrmann, 1982; Siegler & Shrager, 1984). These studies represent only a handful of the many recent investigations of expertise in a wide variety of domains.
The modern studies that probably were most responsible for the burgeoning literature on expertise were the chess studies of deGroot ( 1965) and Chase and Simon ( 1973). They showed that expertise can be understood in large part in terms of access to enormous amounts of knowledge stored in long-term memory. When experts and novices were briefly presented with random positions of chess pieces on a chess board, the experts did no better than the novices in recalling the positions of the pieces. But when the positions made sense in terms of the game of chess, experts performed much better in recalling the positions. In other words, their superiority depended on (a) their being able to bring superior past knowledge to bear on the recall task and (b) stimuli that followed the rules.
In this chapter, we shall consider just what an expert is, looking first at cognitive competence and then at the attribution of cognitive competence, that is, what people believe an expert to be. We shall then consider the benefits and, finally, the costs of being an expert. Our account of expertise will draw in part on Sternberg's ( 1985a) triarchic theory of human intelligence and on our own recent research on expertise.
In order to understand expertise, it is necessary to consider two distinct and not always related aspects of it: competence, and the attribution of competence. We will consider each of these aspects in turn.
Experts can do "automatically" things that nonexperts can do only with great effort or not at all. In other words, what comes easily to an expert comes only with great difficulty or does not come at all to the novice. In explaining how