Perceptual Learning in Novice Versus Expert Performance

Submitted as Assignment 1 HAY101 – Psychology 101
Word Count: 838
Author: Michael Cunningham
Year: 2011

Perceptual Learning

Perceptual Learning can be defined as a long lasting improvement in one’s sensory abilities after training; it enhances an individual’s perceptual system and helps one to adapt to the sensory environment (Seitz et al 2005). Studies on perceptual learning have found that it can have a relatively long lasting effect on an individual’s ability to better perform at certain perceptual tasks. A study conducted by Fahle & Daum (2002) amongst six patients with amnesia and six patients with healthy memory, showed that amnesic patients are able to significantly improve their performance in a visual hyperacuity task as a result of training. Both groups of subjects completed two learning sessions separated by a one-week interval, at the commencement of the second learning session, the amnesic subjects had no recollection of the previous training, the stimuli, or even the investigators. Despite this they performed significantly better at the second task than the first, which indicates that the amnesic subjects had retained information from the first learning session, even though they had no recollection of the training. The results of the study lend support to the theory of perceptual learning and it’s effectiveness at improving performance. Another study, conducted by Seitz et al (2005), demonstrated that perceptual learning could lead to subjects perceiving stimuli when none are physically presented. In this study, sixteen 18-35 year old subjects with normal vision were presented with motion stimuli and were required to report the direction of each stimulus; a subliminal motion stimulus was presented during the training period, which was too dim to be detected by students. In the post-test it was found that subjects reported seeing motion in the same direction as the subliminal stimulus when presented with blank slides. These results show that there are costs as well as benefits to perceptual learning, as performance enhancements can be accompanied by misperceptions of the visual environment.
Novice Versus Expert Performance

Research has shown that expertise involves a complex interaction between knowledge attained through repeated experience in a specific activity, and cognitive processes that relate situational information to such knowledge structures (Martin et al, 1989). A novice, due to a lack of experience, has less knowledge and exhibits a diminished ability to relate their knowledge to situational occurrences when compared to experts in the same domain. Pope et al (1974) carried out a study to examine the difference in interviewing abilities between sixteen professional psychiatrists and sixteen students studying Psychology, who had no prior experience in interviewing a patient. The 16 interviewees were each interviewed by a professional and non-professional; after each interview, the interviewee was required to complete a post interview questionnaire designed to evaluate performance. The results of the study indicated that novices were rated as being more accepting and friendly than the professionals, but didn’t possess as much skill or experience and were more anxious, producing more fluttered speech and hesitations. These results suggest that experience provides the expert with more confidence in their abilities, which translate to being more productive and competent in their work when compared to novices. A later study conducted by Martin et al (1989) also examined the differences between experienced psychologists and novices, but focused instead on the cognitive processes and strategies that relate situational information to learned knowledge. The study included 11 experienced counsellors and 12 novice counsellors who were each required to conduct six 55-minute psychological sessions with two patients. After the second, fourth and sixth sessions, both groups of counsellors were individually required to complete a Cognitive Mapping Task (CMT) in order to generate a semantic diagram of how they conceptualised their psychological knowledge and related it to their assigned patients. It was found that the experienced counsellors produced less cluttered and more efficient concept charts compared to the novices; this suggests that the experienced psychologists are able to access and organise their knowledge, and relate it to their patient’s problems more effectively than the novice psychologists.

psychology diagramFigure 1 outlines the mean reaction time in seconds that the pilots and non-pilots demonstrated on each of the nine blocks of instrument scanning trials. The IV is labelled on the Y-axis as ‘Mean Reaction Time (Seconds)’ and has a range of 0-12 seconds in 2-second intervals, while the DV is labelled on the X-axis as ‘Trial Blocks’. Figure 1 demonstrated the pilots’ experience advantage over the non-pilots as they had achieved faster reaction times consistently throughout all 9 trial blocks. While the non-pilots never achieved quicker times than the pilots, they did show a gradual drop in reaction time over the course of the trials.

psychology figureFigure 2 shows the mean percentage of errors that the pilots and non-pilots accumulated during the 9 trial blocks. The IV is labelled on the Y-Axis as ‘Mean Percentage of Errors’ and has a range of 0-30% in intervals of 5% The DV is labelled on the X-axis as ‘Trial Blocks’. Figure 2 illustrates that the non–pilots initially averaged 20% more errors on the test than the pilots, but dramatically improved after each subsequent training block. Interestingly, both the pilots and non-pilots shared the same mean percentage of errors on the 6th and 8th trial, and the non-pilots outperformed the pilots on the 7th and 9th trial.


Fahle, M., & Daum, I, (2002) Perceptual learning in amnesia. Neuropsychologia, 40(8), 1167-1172.

Martin, J., Slemon, A.G., Hiebert, B., Hallberg, E.T., & Cummings, A.L. (1989) Conceptulizations of Novice and Experienced Counselors. Journal of Counselling Psychology, 26(4), 395-400.

Pope, B., Nudler, S., Vonkorff, M.R., & McGhee, J.P. (1974) The experienced professional interviewer versus the complete novice. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 42(5), 680-690.

Seitz, A.R., Nanez, J.E., Holloway, S.R., Koyama, S., & Watanabe, T. (2005) Seeing what is not there shows the cost of perceptual learning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 102 (25), 9080-9085.

1 thought on “Perceptual Learning in Novice Versus Expert Performance

  1. Everyone loves what you guys are up too. This type of clever work and reporting!

    Keep up the good works guys I’ve included you guys to my


Leave a Reply (Don't Be Shy!)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s