Integration of Perceptual Input and Visual Imagery in Chess Players: EvidenceFrom Eye Movements

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This multiple-case study addresses the question of how information from theenvironment is integrated with mental images. Chess players (N= 4) of different skill levels were submitted to a visual imagery taskwith familiar stimuli (chess positions) and unfamiliar stimuli (boardscontaining shapes). A position that remained unchanged and a grid in which moveswere displayed using a standard chess notation familiar to the participants werevisually presented. The participants' task was to mentally reproduce asequence of moves from the original position. Retention of updated positions wasassessed with a memory task. Eye movements were recorded during the entireexperiment. We found that (a) players performed better with familiar than withunfamiliar stimuli; (b) there was a strong correlation between skill level andperformance in the familiar, but not the unfamiliar condition; (c) players usedthe external board as an external memory store; but (d) there was no differencein the extent to which players of different skill levels shifted their attentionto the external board. Using control tasks unrelated to chess, we establishedthat the skilled and unskilled players did not differ with respect to generalcognitive abilities. These results emphasize the role of long-term memory inexpertise and suggest that players use processes that enable them to smoothlycombine information from the environment with mental images.

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