Re: Howe 5

From: McKay Maria (
Date: Thu Feb 19 1998 - 16:24:50 GMT

McLeod Julia <> wrote:

jm> O.K, the evidence that Howe et al has presented against the existence
jm> of `talent' seems pretty convincing/conclusive, especially as it is
jm> based on empirical evidence, and as psychologists we are so concerned
jm> with empirical status. Perhaps to the degree that we overlook the
jm> obvious?
jm> We seem to be back to the same old problem which haunts psychologists,
jm> a universally agreed `definition'. Isn't trying to define talent a bit
jm> like attempting to define the difference between
jm> normality/abnormality; function/dysfunction?
jm> I'm really not sure about this, it could be that genetic transmission
jm> is more about socio-environmental nurturing as Coon & Carey (1989)
jm> have concluded.

Whilst many cite social and environmental factors as being the guiding
forces in attaining special abilities, I don't agree that the idea of
an innate blueprint should be overlooked. When one looks to specific
domains, the arts for example, one must surely recognise that something
more than practise and training is evident in the works of the truly
great e.g. in music, looking to Mozart; numerous indivduals excel in
music, they understand the theory and can perform, but for many, the
ability to compose as exceptionally as Mozart for example is beyond the
majority; isn't Mozart's work really a sign of 'talent' - an ability
which can't be taught? I recognise that social and environmental
influences can aid certain people reach limited levels of success in
certain domains; to truly excel, something else is required - talent!

jm> This can't always be the case, early indicators may be evidence of
jm> parental encouragement opportunity and practice, but just because a
jm> child lacks the opportunity to demonstrate and develop the talent
jm> doesn't mean s/he won't display it in later life, or that s/he doesn't
jm> possess it.

2. I agree. I believe people have a blueprint for certain innnate
talents which can only be,realised by environmental variables and so
predictors of talent will only be evident when individuals find
themselves in appropriate settings. Following, some individuals might
never be given the chance to let their special abilities show
themselves as they don't ever find themselves in accomodating
environments which would allow these specific talents to surface.

jm> Not all individuals will choose to pursue their talent, perhaps this
jm> is the difference between those who possess `true' talent and those
jm> who show a measure of excellence through enforced practice?

3. I believe that there are two groups of individuals who can perform
well in a specific domain either, those who must work very hard to
attain recognition or those who can perform the task with relative ease
and little effort on their part. Consequently, I believe that some
individuals are gifted with an innate talent and that social and
environmental variables aren't enough alone to provide a complete
explanation. For example, look to mathematics at a very high level and
imagine a scenario one might encounter in real life whereby two
individuals have received the exact same teaching through their maths
training, yet one of these people is truly excellent and the other has
to work so very hard just to perform below their standards of
achievment; isn't it inevitable here to look to the talent explanation
here, how could other variables (which critics of the talent account
are so ready to turn to) such as individual personality, social and
environmental factors even attempt to provide an explanation?

jm> If we think of talent in relation to the `arts', I think this is
jm> probably true, but I also believe that all individuals have some
jm> measure of talent that is instinctive and untaught.

4. I believe that talent exists in an infinite number of domains which
stretch beyond the arts; for example, one may look to sporting talent,
to intellectual geniuses e.g. scientists and inventors.

jm> I'm not quite sure if I understand what they mean by `relatively
jm> specific'. If this means relative to a single domain, in the ordinary
jm> sense of talent, people may have many dimensions i.e. play a brilliant
jm> game of tennis, be a cordon bleu cook as well as creating wonderfully
jm> useful gadgets out of sticky back plastic and a washing up container,
jm> but, in the extraordinary sense of talent, no, I don't think it is
jm> likely that Mozart could paint like Boticelli or write like
jm> Shakespeare. Extraordinary talents probably are `relatively specific'.

5. I agree, in extrodinary examples of talent, the effects
will be very domain specific.

jm> Little evidence maybe, but there is some evidence, surely
jm> this just
jm> highlights the fact that true talent is a very rare commodity? This
jm> brings us back to the definition argument doesn't it?

6. Even though I tend to agree with the talent account, in relation to
its positive argument citing examples of idiot savants etc exhibiting
behaviours which are presumed to be synonymous with talent (as no
considerable practise is involved either), I don't believe that this
argument is very strong. As mentioned in the lecture, these individuals
may exhibit behaviours which appear exceptional, but this is only in
relation to their other simple and dysfunctional behaviour; observers
thus regard these abilities as greater than they really are, abilities
which in the real world would be seen as far from exceptional.

jm> Exactly. How can a child show early precocity as a pianist for
jm> example, if s/he hasn't the opportunity? Of course early precocity is
jm> encountered when preceded by encouragement and opportunity because it
jm> is fuelled by the parents'/teachers' ambition. This is a circular
jm> argument. The research for learned expertise shows that quite ordinary
jm> skills can be learned to a high degree, and I will concede is evident
jm> in other accomplishments. We're back to definition again. Compared to
jm> the general population, individuals attending special establishments
jm> for art, music, dance and drama, look and are pretty talented, but of
jm> all these `talented' people, only a very small minority are
jm> exceptional. Highly accomplished people may develop technical
jm> perfection through practice, but, this isn't talent.

7. I agree here. Learned expertise will allow individuals to reach an
impressive level of behaviour relevant to a specific domain, but only a
small number of people can go beyond here and be truly exceptional and
practise and training won't aid this transition.

jm> Yes, I agree with this, all skills need to be practised, and practice
jm> may make perfect, but it still doesn't account for the quality that
jm> makes some people shine.

8. Yes. Look to music to demonstrate this point; any individual can
reach a high grade level through a combination of practise and
perseverance, yet truly exceptional musicians who add flair and
expression to the music have that extra quality, something that can't
be taught. Talent requires a biological predisposition which can only
be realised through the appropriate environmental settings in my view.

jm> Maybe the evidence reviewed here doesn't support the talent account,
jm> but this doesn't make it conclusive. I couldn't agree more with
jm> discriminatory aspect. That is exactly why we need to find some way to
jm> determine how talent can be identified to ensure that the right
jm> children are given the right opportunities. Not just given to those
jm> whose parents hold the ambition which may be merely programmed into or
jm> is even lacking in the child. There should be some element of choice
jm> for the individual child.

9. I believe if the talent account is accepted, favouritism of the
individuals deemed talented will be inevitable which is obviously
worrisome and is an issue which is very important to consider in this
area of investigation.

jm> This is more realistic. I'm undecided about the genetic origins, but I
jm> do believe that true talent belongs to the minority, and does `in this
jm> restricted sense exist'. Surely that is the whole point, if it is not
jm> restricted, it's not talent? As I have already stated, I think that
jm> everyone possesses some talent in the special quality sense. I also
jm> believe that high levels of accomplishment can be achieved in all
jm> areas with encouragement, tuition and practice, but with specific
jm> reference to the `arts', I can only see exceptional talent as being a
jm> rare gift that is related, in some way to expressed emotion.

10. I agree with the main direction of your response here, yet I
believe that the notion of talent can submerge itself into a number
of specific domains away from the 'arts' e.g. in sports, in science -

McKay Maria

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