Francoys Gagne - A biased Survey and Interpretation
of the nature-nurture literature.
This commentary firstly serves to criticise the target
authors' selective and biased summarizing of the literature.
>First, the target authors do not mention the extensive
>literature on the close relationship between general
>intelligence and school achievement. Correlations commonly
>attain .60 at the elementary level and decrease slowly
>afterwards (Sattler, 1988). Thus, high cognitive abilities
>(innate talent), whose partial dependence on genetic
>endowment is well-recognized, are very good predictors of
As a result of this claim, Gagne then ascertains that only
the fifth criteria ( domain specificity ) is not met in this
example. He then questions whether or not this criterion is
in itself relevant anyway as it may serve to blur the
boundaries between innate talents and developed skills. This
is an area in which I believe, much further clarification is
needed. On what basis can we ever truly distinguish between
"innate" talent and that which is the result of practice and
experience, seeing that these are also present in those with
a supposed 'innate' talent ?
>Second, they totally ignore the extensive literature on the
>limited impact of early stimulation on the growth of IQ. If
>cognitive abilities were very responsive to environmental
>influence, one would expect that intervention programs, such
>as Head Start, would produce major positive changes in IQ
The fact that these programs only lead to minimal gain which
is lost over time leads Gagne to then conclude that this
supports the argument that :
>genotype imposes definite limits on the maximum attainable
>level of cognitive development.
However, from my readings, I would claim that this does not
really undermine Howe's arguments. It may be that those
children whom he claims have had extensive parental support
and encouragement are therefore just functioning at their
maximum level of ability preset by their individual genotype.
Gagne, then goes on to criticise the target authors'
selective analysis of the literature by brushing aside the:
>whole literature on prodigies and other exceptionally
>talented individuals, judging it unreliable because of its
>anecdotic, retrospective, and hearsay nature.
However, whilst these are interesting and particularly
enlightening presentations, their reliability and validity
cannot go unquestioned.
Gagne also claims that from his own research, ease of
learning is the trademark of natural abilities. He therefore
criticises Howe's paucity of concetration upon this area.
In conclusion, Gagne makes some very valid points regarding
the selective presentation of literature in this article. He
concludes that :
>their extreme positions do not represent at all the
>available knowledge on that question.
Hatano, G: Might we adopt the learning-related account
instead of the talent account?
In this commentary, Hatano proposes an aptitude account as an
alternative to the talent or learning-related account.
He criticises the view that training and favourable early
experiences can always produce exceptionally high
achievement for two reasons :
>First, some dimensions of human variability that influence
>the level as well as the ease of mastery, such as preference
>for, commitment to, and persistence in a particular domain
>of expertise, do not constitue a talent defined in this
>article, but not learning-related experiences, either.
>Second, the strongest pieces of evidence for the
>learning-related account are not about high achievements in
>socially significant domains. Some of them concern highly
>specific experiment-or job-related skills; and others,
>progress from beginners to lower intermediates, not the
>attainment of real expertise.
Hatano therefore claims that we should be tentative in
adopting or rejecting either the talent account or
The third alternative relates to aptitude and social
implications of 'talent'. This relates to the implications
suggested by Howe in which those diagnosed as lacking in
talent are therefore discouraged. However Hatano also implies
this is also dangerous in the realm of the learning-related
account since it :
>implies that everyone can achieve a very high level of
>performance in any domain, if he or she engages in exercise
>or deliberate practice for an extended period of time.
Hatano believes that these social implications are just as
undesirable as those derived from the talent account. He then
discusses the implications of this for cultures in which
effort is particularly emphasized.
>Unlike the talent account defined by the authors, the
>aptitude account does not assume that the presence of talent
>is all or none: Some individuals are better endowed with the
>relevant talent, but the differences are a matter of degree.
This would seem a logical area to investigate further.
Heller, K.A. & Ziegler, A. : People who live in glass houses....
Heller & Ziegler criticise Howe's article for lacking in
presented evidence. This is especially true for the
discrepancy between Howe's suggestion that genetic factors
play a minimal role compared with that of behaviour genetics
who estimate a variance to be about 50 %.
Why should this enormous discrepancy exist ?
Heller & Ziegler argue that :
> an obvious answer can be found in the inconsistency among
>the objects investigated.
This is since Behaviour geneticists do not investigate
exceptional ability that has resulted from intensive
Similarly Heller and Ziegler maintain that :
> Howe et al present us with differing yardsticks in the
>study with respect to measurement in the required
>methodological standards, which contain evidence both for
>and against the talent concept. Findings favoring the talent
>construct were rejected due to methodological doubt.
>Findings contra the talent construct were, on the other
>hand, readily accepted despite the existence of comparable
In conclusion Heller and Ziegler, like commentaries before,
criticise Howe et al's use and analysis of the literature and
find their argumentation less than convincing.
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