I'm interested in how cognitive science experiments are designed and executed. Up until now, all of the papers I've seen dealing with cognition use availability of test subjects as one of the major factors of recruitment for experiments. For example, students are recruited for an experiment, and because the group is so diverse, they are tested on general skills that the entire group would possess, like reading or math.

For example, consider this experiment: "Happiness economics" in reverse: Does happiness affect productivity? There were 276 university students and faculty involved. The students are tested with a math task.

Math and reading comprehension are general skills, and I can think of few people who earn their living with those skills, aside from SAT tutors.

I'm interested if there have been other types of cognitive experiments tried, where the skills used to evaluate experiment are at a "professional" level. For example professional athletes, soldiers or pilots come to mind.

  • Experiments that use scoring percentage as a metric for basketball players
  • Experiments that use marksmanship grouping as a metric
  • Professional video game players

Are there any groups of people, whose professional skills are consistently tested as metric of cognitive performance?

Thank you for your input!

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I can't think of any landmark studies, but there are certainly a lot of examples of this in the literature. Sports psychology is a big field in and of itself. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 3:01
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ classic study on expertise: Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological review, 100(3), 363. syllabus.byu.edu/uploads/h52kB4gCLyQP.pdf $\endgroup$
    – Jeff
    Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 21:11

1 Answer 1


There are a few people who have been very extensively experimented on because they have unusual brain lesions (which is kind of like the opposite of a skill). The most famous is Henry Molaison (HM), who developed a rare case of episodic anterograde amnesia following surgery for severe epilepsy. He spent the entire latter part of his life in a care institute and was a continuous subject of various learning experiments and imaging studies. Another patient with very specific memory-related lesions is KC, who has been the subject of at least 20 case studies.

A couple of other studies that might be of interest are West et al. (2008), who recruited experienced video game players in order to find people with strong skills at rapid visual scanning, and research by Eleanor Maguire and colleagues that examined structural changes in the brains of new London taxi drivers as they acquired their fantastically detailed spatial map of the city's streets.

West, G. L., Stevens, S. A., Pun, C., & Pratt, J. (2008). Visuospatial experience modulates attentional capture: Evidence from action video game players. Journal of Vision, 8(16).

Maguire, E. A., Gadian, D. G., Johnsrude, I. S., Good, C. D., Ashburner, J., Frackowiak, R. S., & Frith, C. D. (2000). Navigation-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 97(8), 4398-4403.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Or e.g. professional musicians: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14642491 $\endgroup$
    – jokel
    Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ Great, this is just the kind of info I've been looking for! $\endgroup$
    – Alex Stone
    Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 23:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.