Sunday, May 07, 2006

Nature vs. Nurture - Freakonomics Style

Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt's article, "A Star is Made" in the NY Times Sunday magazine argues based on research done by Anders Ericsson at FSU that talent is overrated as a predictor of performance. In practice expert performers in surgery, ballet, tennis or most any other activity are made not born. Much like their approach in their best-selling book Freakonomics (and the interesting related blog) they start with an anomalous fact ("most elite soccer players are born early in the calendar year") and their hypotheses about the answer leads them to understand the imporatnce of deliberate practice as the dominant factor in explaining performance differences.

Some excerpts:

Ericsson and his colleagues have thus taken to studying expert performers in a wide range of pursuits, including soccer, golf, surgery, piano playing, Scrabble, writing, chess, software design, stock picking and darts. They gather all the data they can, not just performance statistics and biographical details but also the results of their own laboratory experiments with high achievers.

Their work, compiled in the "Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance," a 900-page academic book that will be published next month, makes a rather startling assertion: the trait we commonly call talent is highly overrated. Or, put another way, expert performers — whether in memory or surgery, ballet or computer programming — are nearly always made, not born. And yes, practice does make perfect. These may be the sort of clichés that parents are fond of whispering to their children. But these particular clichés just happen to be true.

No comments: