Howe Comms 01-03 Baltes Bronfenbrenner Csikszentmihalyi

From: McNaught-Davis , Beth (
Date: Wed Feb 18 1998 - 10:56:57 GMT


>A two-pronged conclusion resulted: Yes! The orchestration of
>experiential and practice factors produces outstanding levels of
>performance in all age groups and for many individuals. Yet! If
>maximum levels or limits of performance (in the sense of asymptotic
>levels of potential) are studied by means of testing-the-limits
>procedures, older adults did not reach the same asymptotes as
>younger ones. Moreover, as subjects reached higher and higher
>levels of performance, individual differences were maintained or
>even increased.

>When people participated in 36 sessions of intensive and organized
>training in a memory technique (the method of loci) that can be
>used to reach exceptionally high levels of memory performance, all
>of them benefitted from this intervention. If continued beyond 36
>sessions (Kliegl, Smith, Heckhausen, & Baltes, 1987), people
>reached levels approaching the characteristic of memory experts.

>As subjects were pushed toward the limits (asymptotes) of their
>maximum performance potential, individual differences were
>magnified (Baltes & Kliegl, 1992). The conclusion is clear: the
>likelihood is high that biology-based factors are involved (see
>Lindenberger & Baltes, 1995, for further expositions).

>My hypothesis is clear: If such testing-the-limits studies were
>conducted, the biological individual-differences factors of talent
>would come to the foreground and be part of the ensemble.

How can you tell if participants have reached thier limits from a
simple memory experiment. Some participants may need more time to
fulfill thier potential. Optimal performance may be produced using
different memory strategies for individual participants. Other
uncontrolled factors may be participant motivation and concentration
on the task. This may differ according to the participants interest
in the task. More interest in the task may, in itself suggest that
those participants will do better at the task.

It could also be suggested that the brain develops a particular
ability purely due to exposure to that ability and not through any
bioplogical advantage. What I am suggesting is that the results of
this experiment can not deny that an increased ability in the memory
task maybe due to exposure to this skill in the participants life
time. The only way that this could be disproved is by knowing every
single interaction that had occurred in the participants life.


>Proposition III. Proximal processes serve as a mechanisms for
>actualizing genetic potential for effective psychological
>development, but their power to do so is also differentiated
>systematically as a joint function of the same three factors
>stipulated in Proposition II (form, power, content).

What this is saying is that particular interactions occurring
between human and environment (proximal processes) serve to develop
individual genetic potentials for a particular skill, but this
depends on the type, power and content of the interactions. So we
are predisposed to be talented (or good at) certain things, but
these behaviours will only occur if we have been appropriately
exposed to them (ie. correctly and stabally over time)

Do these proximal processes need to occur early in our lives?
Surely if we have a genetic basis for a particular skill, it would
not matter at what age it was nurtured. However it is not often the
we see a great talent emerge in a person later in their lives. So
perhaps the specificity (correct type, power and content) of the
proximal processes does not need to be so stringent, because most
talents do seem to emerge earlier in life. Perhaps it can be
explained by saying that later in life we may not so readily learn
new things and we are not exposed to particular, ongoing
encouragement from our parents, as may happen in childhood.

>Hypothesis 1 Heritability will be higher when proximal process are
>strong, and lower when such processes are weak.

This seems very reasonable, that the more appropriate and the more
interaction with the environment will more likely lead to the
development of a skill.
It could be suggested that those who are seen to have a talent,
may have been exposed to very specific and ongoing proximal
processes. Whereas those who are seen to be only 'good at' a
particular skill, have been exposed to several different proximal
processes. This could disclude the need for any biological basis,
it could be simply due the the intense exposure to a particular
proximal process, causing that skill to take priority in brain
processes. For example, it is often found that people with special
talents in an area, are very poor in other areas (eg.idiot savants
and geniuses). This could simply be due to over exposure to one
thing and under exposure to the rest, so more brain capacity can be
devoted to the one.

 This is supported by the quote from the text.....>>
> The power
>of proximal processes to actualize genetic potentials for
>developmental competence will be greater in advantaged and stable

>Hypothesis 3 If persons are exposed over extended periods of time
>to settings that provide developmental resources and encourage
>engagement in proximal processes to a degree not experienced in the
>other settings in their lives, then the power of proximal processes
>to actualize genetic potentials for developmental competence will
>be greater for those living in more disadvantaged and disorganized

How can this be so?

NATURE, NURTURE AND TALENT: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

>Flogging the dead horse of the nature vs. nurture controversy is
>particularly useless in the context of talent. Whatever we mean by
>it, it is clear that talent involves both personal qualities based
>on innate differences, and social opportunities, supports, and

>The authors are right in arguing that talent is essentially a
>social construction; we label as such performances that at some
>historical moment we happen to value. In many preliterate
>societies, men who suffered from epileptic seizures were thought to
>have a gift for communicating with supernatural forces, and their
>"talent" was given respect and recognition.

We can make anything a talent, it is just down to an opinion that
has developed in our social world over time. Art and music and all
creative things are of this nature. However talents involving
physical ability, may produce a 'winner' and so this can not be down
to opinion. In these cases however, it is more likely that the
ability comes about through intense physical practice.

>While we are waiting for a way to resolve this conundrum, the
>authors argue that it makes more sense to assume that their "no-
>talent" account is right, because this would have the more
>beneficial social consequences. Instead of providing the extensive
>social supports needed for developing superior performance only to
>those children we believe to be talented, we would offer them to
>every child who wants it. This application of an egalitarian
>ideology sounds attractive, but I am not sure it makes much sense.
>Given limited resources -- and the Lord knows they always are --
>wouldn't we provide training opportunities first to those children
>who, for whatever reason, show interest and ability in a given
>domain? I don't think the authors wish to argue that all children
>have the same interests and abilities, or that opportunities for
>intensive training should be provided across the board, regardless
>of a child's inclination. So practical implications do not
>recommend the no-talent account either.

Previously it has been said that we can not predict who will be
talented in the future by performance at an early age. So there is
no way of correctly allocating the limited resources in a fair way.
Interest may not mean talent. A very unmotivated child may be good
at music, but he may not display this in interest. By allocating
resources to interested pupils, the really talented puplis may be
left out and not develop their skills due to lack of encouragement.

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