Howe Comms 10-12 Tesch-Romer Trehub Vitouch

From: Parish Kevin (kip195@psy.soton.ac.uk)
Date: Wed Feb 18 1998 - 11:36:37 GMT


Tesch Romer: Attributed talent is a powerful myth

>Also on the institutional level "attributed talent" serves an
>important function. There are elaborated procedures of identifying
>individuals with high potential, and allocation of ressources often
>is based on promising future potential. Indeed, only if the
>individual and the surrounding support network is convinced that
>talent is waiting to arise to full capacity, individuals will begin
>training early in life, devote tremendous time to relevant
>activities, and money is spent on teachers and equipment.

This raises the question of whether some pupils by attributed talent
in schools may get extra attention to the detrimant of classmates
where this is not appropriate. Perhaps it's not so useful.

> belief in talent is an important factor of the motivation to practice
> over
>extended periods of time. Moreover, since success is not swiftly
>reached and temporary drawbacks are not infrequent during the course
>of expertise development, the belief in hidden potentials might
>support novices during occasions of doubt and propel them to
>continuing endeavor (Seligman, Nolen-Hoeksema, Thorton & Thorton,
>1990). Interestingly, even final failure may not invalidate the
>belief in the potential of a person, since necessary conditions
>never guarantee success. In the case of failure, talent might not
>have blossomed for a variety reasons: Laziness, bad luck, or adverse
>circumstances. Convictions regarding the existence of talent and
>talented children may not necessarily be changed even facing defeat.

This approach could also prove to bedetrimental to development as not
seeing failings of the self may cause faults to go uncorrected.

>If "innate talent" does not exist, believing in talent is faulty and
>irrational. Attributions, however, quite often are illusory but
>helpful, as in the case of the optimistic attribution pattern of
>explaining success by internal and failure by external forces
>(Heckhausen, 1987). Which alternative idea can give Howe, Davidson
>and Sloboda to the beginner which is as protective and productive as
>the belief in talent?

What happens when the person finally realises that they are in fact
not talented (assuming there is such a thing)? Will this lead to a
much increased sense of failure or loss, it appears to be more of a
short rather than long term solution to confidence.

>Estimating the probability of success might rest on the assumption
>that it is possible to predict the course of a carreer if all
>relevant circumstances are considered: Age of beginning, amount and
>structure of practice, quality of training, commitment of the
>individual and the support network, to name a few. Unfortunately,
>there are two obstacles in prognosing a future career. First, at the
>time being it seems unlikely that all relevant factors can be
>measured reliably and validly. Hence, estimates of future success
>will be very vague.

There is no possibility of ever producing anything which equates to a
mathematical or firmly predictive model of exceptional acheivement.
More than the academic past of the individuals is required. Even if
all the cultural and social factors could be accounted for then there
would still be a void as during any person's life there are likely to
be a ceratin number of traumatic or significant life events (eg death
of close friend/family, bad accidents) it would be foolish to assume
that these will have no effect on the person's ongoing behaviour.

Trehub and Scheelenberg: Cultural determinism and biological determinism

>Webster's acknowledges the need for cultivation. Talent, in this
>view, is merely the potential for excellence, which can either be
>nurtured or wasted. Accordingly, adult abilities in various domains
>stem from some combination of genetic and environmental factors,
>with stellar abilities presumably requiring abundant inspiration
>(talent) and perspiration (practice)

This nature plus nurture approach follows what many people aree
likely to regard as common sense view. These genetic factors might
include the physical characteristics of the person in question, there
is no doubt that to play a number of musical instruments well long
narrow fingers would be a signifiacnt advantage. These essentrial
characteristics have as yet not been mentioned. There must also be
little doubt that a lack of encouragement or even negative attitudes
may lead to that particular 'talent' bing neglected.

>the authors provide numerous criteria for talent (the predictors)
>but not a single defining feature of exceptional achievement (the
>outcome variable).

Whethere these unusual abilities are a result of talent or not is
irrelevant in many respects. The variables are so diverse and so
great in number that we can never hope to measure them. Besides if
these special abilities are so rare they are also likely to be very
individual and hence common factors may not even be an appropriate
way of measuring potential anyway.

>Suppose extraordinary skills can be achieved only if talent, as
i>ndexed by unusual early skills (relative to age-mates) without
>unusual exposure, is noticed, nurtured (i.e., parental
>encouragement, skilled instructors, and intensive practice), and
>accompanied by personality factors that foster the expression of
>exceptional ability.

As noted by Howe et al. many parents believed that they had not
necessarily given their children extra encouragement but this relied
on delayed report of the child's upbringing widely recognised as not
being the most reliable source of data in any research.

>Definitive evidence for either side would require programming the
>lives of talented children so that all potentially relevant
>environmental factors could be controlled. In short, the question
>may >not be amenable to empirical analysis.

This should have been obvious a long time ago. There is no way that
we can hope to control our environment. You cannot interfere with
everyday events (fate or whatever you want to call it) to the extent
that I believe you would need to.

>The key questions, however interesting, remain unanswered, perhaps
>unanswerable

Certainly in terms of a success formula and almost definetly interms
of true genius. Patrt of the problem is that cases are so few and far
between.

Vitouch: The rage to drink

>Although the authors review the literature carefully, they do not
>draw their conclusions with the same care. H, D & S are not totally
>disinterested; they tend to interpret the evidence in favor of
>expertise more benevolently than the evidence pro biological
>influences, which they first describe and then ignore. For example,
>they state that self-rated musical talent correlated "considerably
>less" among monozygotic twins reared apart (r=.44) vs. reared
>together (r=.69), ignoring that .44 is still a rather considerable
>correlation for itself (Section 2.3).

Find me a psychologist who isn't (yes I know it's cynical).

>As Sternberg (1996)
>convincingly states, it is everybody's everyday experience that
>people practice where they are good at and succeed, and stop
>practicing when they feel they better invested their time elsewhere.

Not perhaps as sensible as it sounds. Take sports as an example at
the top of most sports there are a group of people who are of similar
ability, most of them will train to eliminate their weaknesses more
than to accentuate what they are good at.

>Apart from strict experimental studies, limited due to effort and
>ethics, only true longitudinal studies following "talented" and
>"untalented" people, both "practicing," can help to disentangle
>these relationships. While present evidence is largely retrospective
>and based on groups defined post festum, Sloboda et al. (1996) made
>a long step into the right direction.

True enough but there is still the issue of outside factors which
cannot be controlled.

>because the really interesting question is why he did, and why
>did he of all people and the others did not? Why do some people
>drink (or practice) voluntarily, enduringly, persistently and, if
>you want, deliberately? And do some people have a "rage to master"
>(Winner 1996) like others have a "rage to drink"? This parable
>(should you dislike alcoholism, take adipositas) shows that the
>expertise vs. talent discussion resembles various nature-nurture
>problems: Clinical concepts of vulnerability could be understood as
>the negative counterpart to concepts of talent.

I'm not convinced by this-alcoholism is not a skill for the most part
it is an addiction in a biological as well as mental sense, to my
mind this is not the same thing as desire to be a cello virtuoso. It
does not ion itself require a refined set of either physical or ment
al skills..

>. "Untalented" can be a devastating label, but
>"talented" can be a stimulating and inspiring one.

Unless the next thing is abject failure in which case you are out of
excuses and this may in turn cause loss of motivation, self esteem
etc.

>Looking at tennis again, the international competition is so hard
>nowadays that the best twenty players in the world all have the best
>trainers available and spend the maximum possible amount of
>training. Nevertheless, only one of them is number one. Again, the
>deliberate practice approach is inattentive to these differences
>within the expert group.

Individual factors on the day, self belief, 'the zone' (a state of
mind both described and measured in a number of top sports persons
where they are in a waking state w.r.t. their senses and their 'mind'
is ina state approaching deep sleep.)

>"quest for the gifted."

Is this desirable anyway, to take away prematurely a childhood for
the sake of showing off a gifted child and to single thewm out from
their social worlds.



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