Stegosaurus and spoonbills: Mechanisms for transfer across biological domains Chapter uri icon


  • This chapter examines the state of the literature regarding transfer across domains built primarily of declarative knowledge, with a particular emphasis on domains related to biology. We propose that expertise in declarative knowledge domains can transfer to other related domains, but not through typical strategy use or procedural knowledge platforms. Transfer between domains related to biology seems to be facilitated by an increased level of attention to perceptual and behavioral features in the expert domain. Although there is a significant literature documenting transfer across declarative knowledge domains in adults, evidence for transfer in children has been more difficult to obtain. The present chapter presents a model of the types of knowledge which would be prone to transfer effects in children and reviews research on the factors that most likely facilitate that transfer. We argue that transfer in children, when it does occur, is often implicit and unaccompanied by metacognitive awareness, and we provide relevant evidence through an analysis of children's performance on a referential communication task. Finally, methods for supporting the development of metacognitive knowledge about concepts are explored, as well as future directions for research. Although children frequently are depicted as universal novices (Brown & DeLoache, 1978), there are groups of child experts who, because of interest or experience, have come to know more about a domain than many adults will ever know (e.g., Alexander, Johnson, & Schreiber, 2002; Chi, 1978). A child expert's superior performance is facilitated by a wellorganized and rich semantic network of domain-specific knowledge (e.g., Gobbo & Chi, 1986). Attempts to glean evidence that components of expert skill transfer to unfamiliar domains have invariably met with failure in the adult and child skilled performance literature (e.g., Chi, Glaser, & Farr, 1988; Glaser, 1987). These failures may be attributable to the types of domains that have been investigated. Research on expertise has been devoted predominantly to domains dependent on strategic performance and procedural knowledge (e.g., chess, computer programming, Go). In domains such as these, the strategies that are used to increase proficiency are inextricably linked to conceptual knowledge pertaining to the domain. Mastery of domains characterized by knowledge of object categories (e.g., dinosaurs, rocks) is rooted in category differentiation and the learning of features and dimensions along which category members may be grouped, rather than in the development of knowledge-dependent heuristics. As such, it is possible that expertise may exert effects on categorization and perceptual discrimination in less familiar but related domains, particularly if such domains share theoretical similarity (e.g., two different biological domains). The potential role of metacognition and other individual difference variables in facilitating such transfer is not known, particularly for young children. The present chapter will review evidence from studies of child experts and explore questions such as: What types of knowledge transfer from one biological domain to another? How extensive is the transfer? What factors facilitate this transfer? The remainder of the chapter addresses these questions through 4 sections. In the first, we review the literature surrounding the effects of expertise and the extent of transfer typically seen. Next, we review the literature that examines child experts and the transfer of their knowledge, proposing a model for the transfer of expertise across domains. Following, we review the literature on factors that support transfer across domains such as IQ and metacognitive knowledge. Finally, we examine our model with a set of data from 4-to 9-year-old dinosaur experts and conclude with future directions for research. 2008 by Nova Science Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

author list (cited authors)

  • Alexander, J. M., Johnson, K. E., Scott, B., & Meyer, R. D.

complete list of authors

  • Alexander, JM||Johnson, KE||Scott, B||Meyer, RD

Book Title

  • Meta-Cognition: A Recent Review of Research, Theory and Perspectives

publication date

  • December 2008