Howe 2

From: Humphreys Beck (rjh295@psy.soton.ac.uk)
Date: Wed Feb 18 1998 - 14:15:41 GMT


Rebecca Humphreys
Innate talents: reality or myth?
Evidence in support of the talent account.

1. Children acquire impressive skills very early in life in the apparent
absence of oppportunites for the kinds of learnng experiences that
would normally be considered necessary e.g Feldman (1986) giv4es a case
of a boy whose parents said he began to speak in sentences at three
months, engage in conversations at 6mths and read simple books by his
first birthday. Howe argues that such evidence is anecdoatal and
retrospective. In the large part I agree with Howe that such evidence
is difficult to accept in the scientific arena but it is difficult to
see how the evidence for talents in youth could be anything but
anecdotal. No clear empirical evidence regarding the existence or
otherwise is ever likely to exist.... it would seem impossible to
conduct an experiment in which a large quantity of individuals are
used in which all variables other than those innate could be controlled
and eliminated.

2. A second finding which supports the talent account is the emergence
of special capabilities in a minority early in life in the apparent
absence of deliberate efforts to acquire it, for example perfect or
absolute pitch and eidectic imagery. If it is considered that perfect
or absolute pitch provides evidence of a talent then there are further
findings to support innate biological causation view of talent. "
Musicians who have absolute pitch show stronger leftward planium
temporate asymmetry than non musicians without perfect pitch". Howe
questions whether the findings of special capabilities really are
talents- arguing that there is little evidence that eidectic imagery or
perfect pitch conveys an advantage in remembering and success in music
respectively. It seems that where abilities have been demonstrated
early in age which supporters argue are evidence of talent, Howe simply
dismisses them as not being very useful and therefore not constituting
a talent, although no mention is made of "usefulness" in the definition
of innate talent.

"Perfect pitch has circumscribed utility..........there is little
justification for believing that eidectic imagery convey an advantage"
The argument appears not to be whether ths highly skilled abilities
exist in the absence of deliberate learning, Howe accepts some do but
questions whether they are really talents at all. I support the
conclusion that innate talent is a common sense myth but the idea of
innate talents grows in attractiveness when faced with the almost blind
dismissals of contrary findings such as perfect pitch.

3. Howe presents a case to be suspicious of findings of biological
causes or structural precursors of ability arguing that in many cases
physiological change may have taken place as a result of experinces
rather than being a primary cause of them. For example violinists have
a larger cortical representation of the digits of the left hand than in
control subjects. It seems therefore that the role of genetic and
biological influences on specific abilities is unclear. Despite the
considerable evidence of neural correlates of measures of high
capabilities it is hard to find physical indicator structures which
result in talents.

Howe demonstrates that a strong case for the involvement of biological
precursors has not yet been made and appears to fall down in the face
of criticism. For example twin studies which have failed to produce the
high correlations hoped. It appears that biological causes have been
hypothesized by some due to the existence of similarities that have
appeared that that they were unable to account for in other ways. This
Howe argues is not a strong enough reason to keep the theory.

4. The evidence of unusual capacities ad talents in autistic savants is
perhaps the strongest case for the talent account. There are accounts
of mentally handicapped children who display remarkable specific skills
that seem to have been acquired in the absence of deliberate training
or instruction. These children's capacities do seem to call for a
talent account. Howe makes no real effort to explain why they posses
these talents. He believes it is the job of the talent account theory
supporters to prove their theory i supported by the autistic talents
rather than for him to show how these abilities may be a result of
something other than talent. Whilst this belief seems to be just and
scientifically sound it leaves the reader very much aware that the
rejection of the talent account is as a myth is very much also a
theory which is not all inclusive and explanatory.

One reason given or the special achievements of savants is their
obsessionality. Howe perhaps means to argue that this obsession causes
savants to dedicate hours to improving specific task performance and
that it is this obsessional practice which brings about the remarkable
performances of children such as Nadia. This idea is intuitively
attractive although it explains the myth of talent using another
obscure concept obsessionality- where does this special commitment come
from perhaps this is in itself a special talent.



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