Key messageThe adoption of new silvicultural methods and approaches requires an understanding of the differences between those and “old” or “conventional” approaches, along with extensive training to break previous knowledge bias.ContextForestry is in transition towards ecosystem-based management, and new silvicultural approaches are appearing worldwide. However, the adoption of an alternative silvicultural approach is difficult in practice.AimsWe analyzed the effect of forestry background and demographic variables (gender and age) of 24 raters on the application of the systemic approach (SA) and the conventional approach (CA) in the Northern Apennines (Italy) and compared this with tree marking performed by experts.MethodsData were analyzed as raters’ departures from experts’ selections at the stand and the individual tree level. The probability of tree selection was also calculated.ResultsAt the stand level, raters with forestry background performed the SA as if they were marking for crown thinning, whereas the CA was less intense than experts’ crown thinning. Non-foresters differentiated poorly between the SA and the CA. At the individual tree level, background and gender affected tree selection.ConclusionThe adoption of the SA as a silvicultural system may be conditioned by previous knowledge. The difference between SA and CA remains unclear when it comes to non-foresters. Gender was a more important variable than age in selecting which trees would be harvested.