Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Psychology


Cognitive Psychology

Content Description

1 online resource (x, 97 pages) : illustrations (some color)

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Heather Sheridan

Committee Members

Dominique Vuvan, Jeanette Altarriba


change detection, chunking and template theories, eye-tracking, flicker paradigm, music reading expertise, Expertise, Eye tracking, Score reading and playing, Music, Cognitive psychology

Subject Categories

Music | Psychology


Theoretical perspectives in the chess expertise literature, such as chunking and template theories, assume that experts acquire the ability to process domain-specific visual features as larger patterns. Eye tracking techniques can test predictions derived from these theories, because the eye movement record provides fine-grained information about where and when experts are looking during a domain-specific task. In this dissertation, I assessed the generalizability of chunking and template theories to the domain of music reading expertise with a novel music-related variant of the flicker paradigm. Across twoexperiments, I monitored the eye movements of 60 expert musicians (with at least 10 years of music reading experience) and 60 non-musicians (who could not read music) while they located a single music note or note stack that was rapidly appearing and disappearing within a larger music score. In Experiment 1, I manipulated visual complexity to test the prediction that experts’ domain-specific knowledge permits them to compensate for the processing difficulty produced by increases in the visual complexity of the music scores. In support of this prediction, experts completed trials with more efficient eye movements than non-musicians. Also, the complex trials elicited shorter saccade amplitudes and longer fixation durations than the simple trials, and this complexity effect was larger for non-musicians than experts. In Experiment 2, I manipulated familiarity by contrasting upright (i.e., typically oriented) scores with scores rotated by 90° to test the prediction that visual expertise is perceptually specific. In support of this prediction, I observed no expertise effects on eye movements in the rotated condition, while observing robust expertise effects in the upright condition. Specifically, expertise effects were eliminated in the rotated condition, and the experts made numerically more fixations than non-musicians during rotated trials. Taken together, these findings support the conclusions that music reading experts: (a) can rely on domain-specific knowledge to compensate for increases in task difficulty, and (b) display perceptual advantages that are remarkably specific to familiar contexts. Consistent with the assumptions of chunking and template theories, and similar findings in other domains of expertise like chess and medicine, these results suggest that expert musicians can use chunking mechanisms (e.g., perceptual grouping) to facilitate encoding during domain-specific change detection tasks. This work helps to clarify the boundary conditions under which perceptual expertise effects occur and assesses the generalizability of the chunking and template framework within a novel domain of expertise.