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Cognitive entrenchment, a term that describes the rigidity that may encrust expertise

A trade-off appears to exist: as you become more expert in a knowledge area (such as tax law) you become less flexible. An article dubs this “cognitive entrenchment,” and to explain the phenomenon grounds it in schemas of knowledge (Acad. Mgt. Rev. 2010, at 579).

Schemas resemble networks of knowledge. Scholars proposes that people organize their domain knowledge in schemas, which are networks of facts, concepts, relationships, and memories. Experts’ schemas tend to be relatively larger than novices’ schemas. Expert schemas tend to have more inter-relationships than novice schemas. As a consequence of their more detailed and accurate network of knowledge, experts make decisions more quickly, remember domain information better, spot patterns more easily, and solve problems more effectively (often in a forward-oriented direction).

The downside, however, of such an enriched cognitive architecture is that the knowledge schemas of very experienced lawyers can become more stable and resistant to modification. Acquisition of domain expertise can lead to this cognitive entrenchment.

One example is the “Einstellung” of fact, which occurs when the first idea that comes to mind prevents alternatives from being considered. Experts may fall prey to this. They may be less able to adapt to changes in the environment and ironically they may be less creative. To combat cognitive entrenchment, the article urges experts to focus their attention more widely – toward tasks and activities not only within but also outside their domain.

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