Medical specialists confronted with problems in their domain of expertise do not rely on intentional causal reasoning, using explicit principles or rules. Rather, reasoning is an automatic process, using knowledge in an encapsulated mode. Less clear is what happens when medical specialists encounter problems outside their specialties. To shed light on this issue, we asked cardiologists and pulmonologists to evaluate 4 clinical cases, 2 in the domain of cardiology and 2 in pulmonology. Their task was to study, diagnose, recall, and explain the signs and symptoms of the clinical case descriptions. The cardiologists and pulmonologists alike processed cases in their specialties faster and more accurately, but recall and pathophysiological explanations did not reveal significant differences. These results suggest that medical specialists do not process cases outside their specialties in a qualitatively different mode from cases within their specialties.

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American Journal of Psychology
Department of Psychology

Rikers, R.M.J.P, Schmidt, H.G, Boshuizen, H.P.A, Linssen, G.C.M, Wesseling, G.J, & Paas, G.W.C. (2002). The robustness of medical expertise: Clinical case processing by medical experts and subexperts. American Journal of Psychology, 114(4), 609–629. Retrieved from