Are the advantages of chess expertise on visuo-spatial working-memory capacity domain specific or domain general?

Evan T. Smith, James C. Bartlett, Daniel C. Krawczyk, Chandramallika Basak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Chess experts have repeatedly demonstrated exceptional recall of chessboards, which is weakened by disruption of the chessboard. However, chess experts still perform better than novices when recalling such disrupted chessboards, suggesting a somewhat generalized expertise effect. In the current study, we examined the extent of this generalized expertise effect on early processing of visuo-spatial working memory (VSWM), by comparing 14 chess experts (Elo rating > 2000) and 15 novices on a change-detection paradigm using disrupted chessboards, where attention had to be selectively deployed to either visual or spatial features, or divided across both features. The paradigm differed in the stimuli used (domain-specific chess pieces vs. novel visual shapes) to evaluate domain-general effects of chess expertise. Both experts and novices had greater memory discriminability for chess stimuli than for the unfamiliar stimuli, suggesting a salience advantage for familiar stimuli. Experts, however, demonstrated better memory discriminability than novices not only for chess stimuli presented on these disrupted chessboards, but also for novel, domain-general stimuli, particularly when detecting spatial changes. This expertise advantage was greater for chessboards with supra-capacity set sizes. For set sizes within the working-memory capacity, the expertise advantage was driven by enhanced selective attention to spatial features by chess experts when compared to visual features. However, any expertise-related VSWM advantage disappeared in the absence of the 8 × 8 chessboard display, which implicates the chessboard display as an essential perceptual aspect facilitating the “expert memory effect” in chess, albeit one that might generalize beyond strictly domain-relevant stimuli.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1600-1616
Number of pages17
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • Attentional control
  • Chess expertise
  • Selective attention
  • Spatial working memory
  • Visual working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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