Turns out, that old “practice makes perfect” adage may be overblown.
New research led by Michigan State University’s Zach Hambrick finds that a copious amount of practice is not enough to explain why people differ in level of skill in two widely studied activities, chess and music.
In other words, it takes more than hard work to become an expert. Hambrick, writing in the research journal Intelligence, said natural talent and other factors likely play a role in mastering a complicated activity.
“Practice is indeed important to reach an elite level of performance, but this paper makes an overwhelming case that it isn’t enough,” said Hambrick, associate professor of psychology.
The debate over why and how people become experts has existed for more than a century. Many theorists argue that thousands of hours of focused, deliberate practice is sufficient to achieve elite status.
“The evidence is quite clear,” he writes, “that some people do reach an elite level of performance without copious practice, while other people fail to do so despite copious practice.”
Hambrick and colleagues analyzed 14 studies of chess players and musicians, looking specifically at how practice was related to differences in performance. Practice, they found, accounted for only about one-third of the differences in skill in both music and chess.
So what made up the rest of the difference?
Based on existing research, Hambrick said it could be explained by factors such as intelligence or innate ability, and the age at which people start the particular activity. A previous study of Hambrick’s suggested that working memory capacity – which is closely related to general intelligence – may sometimes be the deciding factor between being good and great.
While the conclusion that practice may not make perfect runs counter to the popular view that just about anyone can achieve greatness if they work hard enough, Hambrick said there is a “silver lining” to the research.
“If people are given an accurate assessment of their abilities and the likelihood of achieving certain goals given those abilities,” he said, “they may gravitate toward domains in which they have a realistic chance of becoming an expert through deliberate practice.”
Each glowing etch on this map represents the path of a tornado tracked in the last 56 years by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“When Rainn’s on the exercise ball bouncing up and down, and I come over and I stab it with the scissors. In every other take we did, I stabbed it and it just slowly goes down. The camera angle was that he just slowly ducked behind the thing and it was incredible. On the last take, they were like ‘do one more!’ and I remember going over and I went BOOM! And I must have hit the seam or something. It exploded. He hit the ground as hard as I’ve ever seen a human hit the ground. If you go back and watch that episode, I just dive out because I am crying laughing.”
Huge Asteroid to Fly Past Earth This Month
A big asteroid will cruise by Earth at the end of the month, making its closest approach to our planet for at least the next two centuries.
Image: The asteroid 1998 QE2, which is about 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) long, will come within 3.6 million miles (5.8 million km) of Earth on May 31, 2013. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The May 31 flyby of asteroid 1998 QE2, which is about 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers) long, poses no threat to Earth. The space rock will come within 3.6 million miles (5.8 million km) of our planet — about 15 times the distance separating Earth and the moon, researchers say.
But the close approach will still be dramatic for astronomers, who plan to get a good look at 1998 QE2 using two huge radar telescopes — NASA’s 230-foot (70 meters) Goldstone dish in California and the 1,000-foot (305 m) Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.
The question is how we react to this great prejudice against women. The rule of law and social activism certainly are crucial. But no matter how strong the social structure, there is always that cheek-slapped moment when you are alone with the anti-woman prejudice: the joke, the leer, the disregard, the invisibility, the inescapable fact that the moment you walk through the door you are seen as lesser, no matter what your credentials.
I have no guidance for women who want to rise through the ranks into technical management. I have led a peripatetic life, moving on when a project was done or the next thing intrigued me.
And I am not advising younger women (or any woman) to tough it out. You can lash back, which I have done too often and which has rarely served me well. You can quit and look for other jobs, which is sometimes a very good idea.
But the prejudice will follow you. What will save you is tacking into the love of the work, into the desire that brought you there in the first place. This creates a suspension of time, opens a spacious room of your own in which you can walk around and consider your response. Staring prejudice in the face imposes a cruel discipline: to structure your anger, to achieve a certain dignity, an angry dignity.
Early developmental stages of Xenopus laevis embryos. This is a frog commonly used in biological labs, and the favorite amphibian of Nobel Prize winner John Gurdon, whose work on these embryos led to this week’s announcement of human embryonic stem cells made from somatic cell nuclear transfer.
Half a century apart, it’s all connected.