Expert Cognition Lab

Professionals in a variety of domains are capable of extraordinary feats of expertise. 

What gives rise to the ability to diagnose a rare disease, develop an elegant solution to a programming problem, spot a suspect’s face in a crowd, or discriminate highly degraded samples of evidence left at a crime-scene? How do experts’ mental representations and decision processes differ from novices’ in these areas? What predicts expert performance? What is the best way to optimise the development of expertise with training and experience?

The Expert Cognition Lab focuses on fundamental questions about the nature and development of expertise as they apply to practical problems in industry. We are interested in understanding how best to create expert performance in contexts such as medicine, forensic science, security, and education. We are working to develop a scientific basis for the selection, training, and assessment of expert performers.

Our research in forensics has resulted in a better understanding of the nature and development of perceptual expertise in fingerprint examination, and the factors that predict expert performance. We collaborate with practitioners and industry partners to create selection, training, and assessment tools with a tangible operational benefit. The outcomes of this research assist forensic examiners in policing, intelligence and security systems, to make accurate and timely decisions, reduce the risk of error, and reduce the time and resources taken from frontline policing to train experts. We aim to reveal general principles for creating expertise that can be applied across professional domains.

  • Lead researcher

    Dr Rachel Searston

    Dr Rachel Searston is a lecturer in the School of Psychology, and studies the nature and development of expert cognition and decision-making. She collaborates with practitioners in a range of industries, including major Australian policing and forensic agencies. Rachel was a McKenzie Fellow at the University of Melbourne and completed her PhD in Cognitive Science at the University of Queensland.

  • Research team



  • Partnerships

    • Australia and New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency National Institute of Forensic Science (ANZPAA NIFS)
    • Australian Federal Police
    • Victoria Police
    • Queensland Police Service
    • New South Wales Police Force
    • Western Australia Police
  • Related areas of research

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