On the Costs of Expertise

In Learning

Robert Sternberg is an American psychologist with a specialism in wisdom across the lifespan.  In a 2013 interview, Sternberg points out how the trade-off for expertise can be limited responsiveness to change, or reduced adaptivity.

One of the early studies I did … was on the costs of expertise. We had experts and novices in bridge play on a computer but we changed the bridge game with either a trivial change or a structural change.

We made a trivial change in that the name of the suits, like clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades we changed to gleebs, fricks, things like that. And then we had a group where we made deep structural change so that instead of the high bidder going first on the next round, the low bidder did.

What we found is that when you make a trivial structural change, the novices and experts are hurt about the same. But when you make a major deep structural change, the experts were hurt more than the novices. In other words, the cost of expertise is entrenchment — you get stuck in ways of thinking. It becomes hard over time to get out of the ruts you create for yourself …