Howe Response Sect 03-04

From: Phillips Barbara (
Date: Mon Feb 23 1998 - 12:53:39 GMT

> R 3. The quality of the evidence

> Heller & Zigler suggest that we are harder on retrospective evidence
> when it appears to oppose rather than support our point of view.

Well, in honesty, who isn't? As psychologists we are supposed to be
objective and I am not saying that we do not try to be that way. But
how objective are people anyway? People always have preconceptions
about everything and that are bound to effect the conclusions we

> Trehub & Schellenberg and Freeman suggest that the talent account
> should be considered to be correct unless or until it has been
> disproved.

This is ridiculous. Psychology is not about accepting a theory to be
right until it is proven wrong. Psychology aims to provide evidence
to support a theory and then it may be viewed as a sustantiated idea.
The quote above is especially silly when the concept of 'talent' is
so difficult to measure anyway. Talent is not an entity in itself
that we can physically see (we can only'see' it's by - product) - so
why assume it's there unless proven otherwise?

> R4 The involvement of innnate influences

> The fact that children occasionally demonstrate impressive
> capabilities considerably earlier than is usual, sometimes in the
> absence of formal instruction, is noted by Csikszentmihalyi and also
> by Winner. However, early emergence of a skill is not necessarily
> indicative of special innate influences.

I agree. A child always has the environment around them from the day
they are born (& before that actually). There are always possible
environmental influences.

> One difficulty is that whilst much of the data that researchers
> have relied upon in order to arrive at estimates of heritability is
> supposedly based on comparisons between twins reared apart and twins
> reared together, the apparently separated twins may actually have
> spent substantial periods of their lives together. Another problem
> is that shared prenatal environments may have contributed to those
> observed similarities in monozygotic twins that provided a major
> source of the evidence that has been drawn (Davis, Phelps & Brancha,
> 1995; Devlin, Daniels & Roeder, 1997).

The idea is, that since MZ twins share 100% of their genes; if they
are reared apart in different homes from the day they are born then
any similarities between them will be genetic. But MZ twins always
share a prenatal environment and in some of the studies they did
share a home for a time. This will affect results by altering the
relative contributions of genetic and shared environmental
influences on talent.

> Where such indicators have been identified, such as the
> distinctive cortical representations of the digits of string
> players' left hands observed by Elbert et al. (1995), it is probable
> that they are the effects rather than the causes of differences in
> early learning experiences.

It is difficult to tell. Where a lot of the data is retrospective -
how do we know whether a factor was present before 'the skill'
emerged or resulted from it? It is necessary to study individuals
from birth in order to answer this question. Then there is the
question of who we study - the children of gifted musical parents and
comparable controls? Then this assumes a genetic theory of talent.
There are many factors to be taken into consideration.

> Assuming that biological causes of variability do make
> contributions, it is possible that they do so via broad traits of
> temperament that help to determine a person's degree of expertise,
> by contributing to an individual's attentiveness, determination, and
> capacity to persevere at a task while resisting distractions.

Seems reasonable

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