Although the projects undertaken by the Cognition Research Group fall under the general heading of cognitive psychology, there are three distinct research programs in the group’s activities. Despite the separate nature of these activities, there are clear synergies between them all. The “Psychology of Learning” program represents basic research aimed at uncovering principles underlying the acquisition of skills. This research informs the development of the game in the “Arithmetic Computer Game” program. The “Expertise and Decision Making” program investigates the effects on behaviour of many years of learning and skill acquisition.
The Cognition Research Group conducts research on the psychology of learning, with a focus on developing ways to improve education and training. Research by the group aims at discovering the factors that improve and reduce the chances that someone can build their mental skills in a particular domain from low level skills (e.g., counting) to higher order skills (e.g., multiplication of multi-digit numbers). One specific question that is being investigated is how would we know when someone was sufficiently fluent in a low level skill that they could attempt a task that requires higher order skills, without feeling overloaded?
One of the aims of the Cognition Research Group is to apply our expertise on the mental processes underlying learning to different types of learning difficulties. Speelman has published research on this issue for the last 25 years, with his 2005 book representing a consolidation of the expertise he has acquired in that time. Since the book was published he has been working on applying this expertise to ways of improving educational outcomes. This includes development of a computer game for training primary school students in basic arithmetic. This game embodies the principles of skill acquisition Speelman articulated in his 2005 book. The game is currently undergoing trials in a number of Perth primary schools.
Another line of research at Cognition Research Group is the study of the relationship between expertise and decision making. Speelman and Campitelli have applied for research grants to study how expertise could positively or negatively affect judgements and choices. For example, expertise in a task could lead to a reduction of overconfidence. This is an important issue: researchers have proposed that overconfidence in investment decisions may partly explain global financial crisis. Another important topic we are investigating is the role of the “illusion of expertise” on problem gambling. Illusion of expertise in gambling is the irrational belief that chance of success in gambles is a function of the time dedicated to gambling. The outcome of this research would be important for psychological and/or governmental interventions.