Re: Howe Comms 04-06 Gagne Hatano Heller

From: Nickson Joanne (
Date: Tue Feb 24 1998 - 14:08:58 GMT

Jo Nickson - Response to Nelson, Claire [cn] (on Howe commentaries 4-6)
> Professor Francoys Gagne - A biased Survey and Interpretation
> of the nature-nurture literature.

cn> This commentary firstly serves to criticise the target
cn> 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
> academic excellence.

cn> As a result of this claim, Gagne then ascertains that only
cn> the fifth criteria ( domain specificity ) is not met in this
cn> example. He then questions whether or not this criterion is
cn> in itself relevant anyway as it may serve to blur the
cn> boundaries between innate talents and developed skills.

Although he claims that only the fifth criterion is not met can we
actually compare general high cognitive abilities with so called
"innate" talent. Just because somebody has high general intelligence
does not necessarily mean that they have a talent.
cn> This is an area in which I believe, much further clarification is
cn> needed. On what basis can we ever truly distinguish between
cn> 'innate " talent and that which is the result of practice and
cn> experience, seeing that these are also present in those with
cn> a supposed 'innate" talent ?

I agree that this is the case. Even if somebody does have a talent
they will be unable to use that talent to its maximum potential
without practice and experience. Taking this into account it would
be very hard to distinguish between a person who has achieved because
of a talent and a person who has achieved because of hard work and

> 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
> scores.

cn> The fact that these programs only lead to minimal gain which
cn> is lost over time leads Gagne to then conclude that this
cn> supports the argument that :

> genotype imposes definite limits on the maximum attainable
> level of cognitive development.

cn> However, from my readings, I would claim that this does not
cn> really undermine Howe's arguments. It may be that those
cn> children whom he claims have had extensive parental support
cn> and encouragement are therefore just functioning at their
cn> maximum level of ability preset by their individual genotype.

Gagnes argument would seem to undermine Howes accounts in some ways
as it suggests that even with intensive training and support some
individuals would not reach the same levels as others. This suggests
that those individuals with a genotype that 'sets" a high limit for
cognitive development could be classified as having a talent.

cn> Gagne, then goes on to criticise the target authors"
cn> 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.

cn> However, whilst these are interesting and particularly
cn> enlightening presentations, their reliability and validity
cn> cannot go unquestioned.

I agree that these anecdotes and stories do not provide enough
evidence upon which to base an entire argument! This is particularly
the case as research has suggested that these 'prodigies" actually
received highly intensive training from birth and in many cases had
very 'pushy" parents.

cn> Gagne also claims that from his own research, ease of
cn> learning is the trademark of natural abilities. He therefore
cn> criticises Howe's paucity of concetration upon this area.

cn> In conclusion, Gagne makes some very valid points regarding
cn> the selective presentation of literature in this article.

Although the literature is selectively presented Howe does make a
very strong case against the talent account which Gagnes account does
not seem to undermine.

> their extreme positions do not represent at all the
> available knowledge on that question.

I agree that the article may be biased but it seems that for the
talent account to be defended a lot more valid and reliable data
needs to be found. The 'available knowledge" for the talent account
seems to be fairly limited.


> Hatano, G : Might we adopt the learning-related account
> instead of the talent account?

cn> In this commentary, Hatano proposes an aptitude account as an
cn> alternative to the talent or learning-related account.
cn> He criticises the view that training and favourable early
cn> experiences can always produce exceptionally high
cn> 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.

cn> Hatano therefore claims that we should be tentative in
cn> adopting or rejecting either the talent account or
cn> learning-related account.

cn> The third alternative relates to aptitude and social
cn> implications of 'talent'. This relates to the implications
cn> suggested by Howe in which those diagnosed as lacking in
cn> talent are therefore discouraged.

I don't think that we can say that everybody who is told that they
don't have a talent is going to give up on high acheivement
particularly as it is often suggested that everybody has a talent for

cn> However Hatano also implies this is also dangerous in the
cn> 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.

cn> Hatano believes that these social implications are just as
cn> undesirable as those derived from the talent account.

In fact the implications could be worse as if people believe that
everything is down to hard work and effort they could become very
disheartened at failure.

cn> He then discusses the implications of
cn> this for cultures in which
cn> 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.

cn> This would seem a logical area to investigate further.

This does appear to be a compromise of the two approaches and does
seem to make some sense.


> Heller, K.A. & Ziegler, A. : People who live in glass houses....

cn> Heller & Ziegler criticise Howe's article for lacking in
cn> presented evidence. This is especially true for the
cn> discrepancy between Howe's suggestion that genetic factors
cn> play a minimal role compared with that of behaviour genetics
cn> who estimate a variance to be about 50 %.

cn> Why should this enormous discrepancy exist ?

Perhaps it is due to the researchers on both sides adjusting the
evidence to fit the argument?

cn> Heller & Ziegler argue that :

> an obvious answer can be found in the inconsistency among
> the objects investigated.

cn> This is since Behaviour geneticists do not investigate
cn> exceptional ability that has resulted from intensive
cn> practice.

cn> 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
> shortcomings.

cn> In conclusion Heller and Ziegler, like commentaries before,
cn> criticise Howe et al's use and analysis of the literature and
cn> find their argumentation less than convincing.

Although they find the arguments to be unconvincing do they actually
put forward any evidence to suggest that Howes account is wrong?

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