Re: Howe Comms 01-03 Baltes Bronfenbrenner Csikszentmihalyi

From: Musselwhite Charles (
Date: Thu Feb 19 1998 - 15:23:41 GMT

> From: "McNaught-Davis , Beth" <>
> Testing-the-Limits of the Ontogenetic Sources of Talent
> Paul B. Baltes
bm> It could also be suggested that the brain develops a particular
bm> ability purely due to exposure to that ability and not through any
bm> bioplogical advantage. What I am suggesting is that the results of
bm> this experiment can not deny that an increased ability in the memory
bm> task maybe due to exposure to this skill in the participants life
bm> time. The only way that this could be disproved is by knowing every
bm> single interaction that had occurred in the participants life.

Yes, I agree. Baltes seems to suggest that individual differences
found in his tremendous memory experiment automatically mean
biological factors at play which is a great leap of faith to assume.
It falsely suggests that all the participants in the experiment are
identical to each other in terms of past experiences, demographic
variables and use of memory in every day life. This kind of
experimentation that ignores such salient characteristics is extremely
dangerous to draw wild conclusions from. People learn at different
rates and we do not know where their capacity is or if they reached
it. The individual differences found are most likely due to social
factors such as:-

a) motivation (people have different thresholds of
stimulus overload/underload not to mention the boredom of this

b) values, attitudes and beliefs (some people believe
using memory is good and useful, some see using memory to store vast
amounts of information as useless, patrticularly with the advent of
computer technology, let alone pen and paper for writing things down),

c) self-fulfilling prophecies (e.g. a person believes he or she has a
poor memory and therefore does not participate in the memory task as
well as others),

d) demand characteristics (e.g. knowing what the
experimenter is looking for and changing his or her behaviour to suit
it - why should people just wish to display the best resuts the can -
many psychology experiments assume this and this does not always

e)impression management - e.g. people think what we everyone think of
me if I score highly on a memory test - I don't want to be seen as a
swat! Similarly do not want to look stupid if you score badly!

f) past use of memory (e.g. some individuals use memory in every day
life more than others. This makes for better learning of anything new
than those who use less memory. The target items measured in memory
tests is also subject to being more salient to some individuals and
have more meaning and therefore being rememnered better than other
people can.)

These are fundamental differences and I have not got the
original experiment to hand and if, and only if as I doubt very much,
all these were controlled for then the differnces seen can be due
to biological differences as was previously assumed.

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

Yes, in 'KID-SIB' terms!

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

The time has to be right for a genius! People often think that the
only geniuses (geniui ?) are young in age, but this is not true of
all domains of being a genius. Age adds to the fact that someone is
seen as a genius e.g. he or she knows all that and she or he is ONLY
7. There are geniuses that appear later in life, for example, look at
the tremendous acting (?) of Buster Merrified as Uncle Albert in Only
Fools and Horses. O.K. He became famous at the age of 65! So, OK, he
is not quite a genius but he wasn't spotted as being good enough to
act in the best British Comedy to appear in years for nothing you
know (and it certainly wasn't just because of that silly white beard
that makes his head appaer upside down).

Seriously the only reason geniuses appear to be young is because if
you have developed a talent good enough to achieve some kind of
qualitative or quantitative recognition then it is advisable to do so
as quickly as possible before someone better comes along and also to
make the most money from a situation. The youngest person to achieve
a degree in Britain is a mathematics student of ten or eleven years
old, he may as well do that as soon as possible for recogniton and
before he gets distracted by other social goals like girls, football
and beer!

It only takes a few years to train and nurture an individual to
become a genius. Once this occurs she or he is not going to wait to
display his or her talents. Furthermore, people develop social norms
as the progress into adolescence and these become more deep-rooted
and difficult to change. It would be difficult to print a new set of
encouragements and rules on older individuals than it is on an
unwritten tablet as, I believe, young children are born like.

>>Hypothesis 1 Heritability will be higher when proximal process are
>>strong, and lower when such processes are weak.
bm> This seems very reasonable, that the more appropriate and the more
bm> interaction with the environment will more likely lead to the
bm> development of a skill.
bm> It could be suggested that those who are seen to have a talent,
bm> may have been exposed to very specific and ongoing proximal
bm> processes. Whereas those who are seen to be only 'good at' a
bm> particular skill, have been exposed to several different proximal
bm> processes. This could disclude the need for any biological basis,
bm> it could be simply due the the intense exposure to a particular
bm> proximal process, causing that skill to take priority in brain
bm> processes. For example, it is often found that people with special
bm> talents in an area, are very poor in other areas (eg.idiot savants
bm> and geniuses). This could simply be due to over exposure to one
bm> thing and under exposure to the rest, so more brain capacity can be
bm> devoted to the one.

bm> 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

I think it is also important to point out that social
influence can also disillusion individuals. For example, a friend of
mine's dad loves sailing but his daughter's cannot bear it since they
were forced into doing it at an early age and have had it rammed down
their throats since a young age. They are BORED of it. Over the years
people's motivation changes too. There were two exceptional
footballers at my senior school in the first year, but by the time we
left they had gained other motivators that took over from their love
of football (such as wine, women and songs) and they were not as good
as some of the other footballers in the class (even Goofy Geeky Dobbin
got naerly as good as them since his interest in women was very
limited and likewise was the women's interset in him!)

>>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
bm> How can this be so?

This is so because of the strength of social influence on
individuals. they are not only motivated by people and things in
their environment but also individuals can begin to motivate
themselves. In fact so strong is the social influence that very
little if any genetic factors will play the part on any,
oparticularly not athletical, geniuses.

>>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.

This is very true. Talent and geniuses are such subjective matter.
Society decides what is seen as acceptablely and
exceptionally talented. There are many talented individuals out there
talented (through social influence, practice and hard work) that are
not recognised as such because their talent is not seen as being
worthwhile in our society. Music is a perfect example. It is
difficult to measure a performers performance objecvtively. This is
the peoblem of trying to measure a quality quantitively which
psychology does so much of. What sounds a plaesant way to play a
piece of music to one person is not seen so by another. Also the
piece of music may well have been played plaesantly but should have
been played aggressively - but who decides which? Also, music
composers, particularly of rock and even of modern day classical
music, are subjected to fashions and trend since the only objective
(though not really) measure of their talent is through purchasing
power of individuals. My favourite genre of music, progressive rock,
is far more talented and complex than the rubbish churned out by
Boyzown and 911, for example, but progressive rock is not seen as
being cool and trendy and so geniuses, of which there are many, go
missed. This happens in many aspects of our society. Geniuses and
talented indivudals go unnoticed due to social pressures on
individuals in society. Another example is of great young artists who
never make it because they are pressured by parents, amongst others,
to persue studies in more 'traditional' (and therefore seen as better
- even though this is rubbish), subjects at schools, colleges and

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

But even winners by using physical ability may only win by CHANCE.
Look at all of Portsmouth Football Club's wins this season for an

But there are so many social factors involved in a physical athlete
winning that simply being the best does not mean she or he will
emerge as the WINNER. Being the best at a sport will inevitably come
down to subjective ratings by people in the know.

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

But what is the point of providing financial or extra support to
talented individuals who do not have the required motivation.
Eventually their talent will fall in line or they will become such
miserable characters that you won't want to speak to them or watch or
listen to them displaying their talent!
It is about time that our society recognises hard work that
indiviuals do. This is the way financial and extra support should be
allocated - the amount of effort and time given to a subject should
be taken into account along with actual performance and CHANCE
factors should be reducved to a minimum. (PEOPLE WHO WRITE EXAM

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