Re: Howe Response Sect 01-02

From: Petrie Susie (
Date: Tue Feb 24 1998 - 15:49:39 GMT

> Zohar and Rutter question our deciding to include early
> identification as a necessary characteristic of a talent. Rutter
> also notes that inherited characteristics may not become evident
> until relati> Winner asserts that a definition of talent should
> make reference to a motivation to work hard.

yp> This may be an important element. A lazy genius is unlikely to excel,
yp> despite his/her remarkable abilities. The element of enjoyment can
yp> contribute to how much an individual is motivated to work hard> O

This is a valid point. However, it must also be taken into account that
the person needs to be explicitly aware of his/her talents. This may
not be apparent until the child is old enough to appreciate their
skill. So, at what age does this understanding occur? No doubt, parents
make this clear once they realise their child has a specific ability.
Usually then, they will encourage their child to see the importance of
it and to develop the skill. In brief, the individual concerned has to
know their "skill" and to be positively reinforced by others in order
to be confident and motivated enough to work hard at it; then the
consequences of their "practice" behaviour can be acknowledged.
> Starkes & Helsen, despite agreeing with our main conclusion, find it
> hard to conceive of talents that are genuinely domain specific.

yp> It seems that the issue of talent is both complex and controversial.
yp> Defining "talent" is a substantial consideration. If we do not know
yp> exactly what talents are, how can we begin to ponder as to their
yp> causes and whether anyone could possess them? There seems to be a
yp> continuum of agreement to Howe's viewpoint, rather than a for or
yp> against stance.

All the commentators do seem to agree with Howe to a certain level but
of course, there is never going to be exact support for one argument.
People are bound to view talent differently depending on their
personal experience and their knowledge of what talent is.

yp> It would seem that the one thing everyone would agree on, is that there
yp> should be a universal definition in order to make judgements and
yp> predictions about talent and its existence. This is unlikely of
yp> course.

Yes, people can agree that there should be a universal definition of
talent but the problem is that professionals could debate forever and
undoubtedly come up with even more hurdles to overcome (eg other
factors affecting how a person's talent develops : peers). It is
probably best to accept that defining and judging talent should be
left to personal opinion because there is no straight cut answer.

> teachers' and other adults' beliefs about the presence or absence
> of [such] talents influence practical decisions that have important
> social and educational consequences for many children. As Rowe r>

yp> But what are they defining as talent? The scouts may not be necessarily
yp> looking for `talent' (as an innate gift), but rather those that seem to
yp> perform well (perhaps from lots of practice). This exa> Howe seems to
yp> be suggesting that the belief that talents are innate could be unwise
yp> and immoral. Perhaps the teacher/parent that sees the exceptional child
yp> as innately gifted (`talented') is blindly> Assumptions like these may
yp> be foolish and the whole selection process may be wrongly influenced by
yp> these people.

There are obviously some biological determinants contributing to
someone's capacity in a specific skill. For example, a champion weight
lifter needs to have the natural physical build to develop his muscles
which in turn benefits his strength to lift heavy weights. One man
could be naturally small, so that his muscles only grow to a certain
level in proportion to the rest of his body. Whereas, another could
benefit from his large build and increase his muscles to an optimum
level. This would then put him at an advantage when lifting weights.
So, biological factors can act as an initial spring board as to how
well someone's talent develops. They could be seen as benefiting or
restricting a skill. These are unquestionably essential. However, it
should not be relevant as to how naturally able you are at something.
Everyone seems to be good at something. So people should only be
rewarded for a talent if they themselves make a conscious effort to
practice a talent.

> For most people there is a clear distinction between specific talents
> and general intelligence, despite the fact that they are related. This
> consideration makes it impossible for us to agree that talent ought to
> be defined in a way that permits general intelligence or cognitive
> ability to count as an instance of it. The finding that intelligence is
> heritable does not seem to us to have much bearing on the viability of
> the talent account.
yp> I'm not sure of Howe's reasoning behind this statement. Is it because
yp> general intelligence is not as rare and remarkable as what we are
yp> calling "talent"? If this is so a more parsimonious and remarkable
yp> definition of talent would be expected.*

Howe's statement does seem a little ambiguous. Perhaps he is trying
to say that general intelligence acts as a general foundation to
talent and that this talent is more salient to people. Therefore more
attention is given to the more "interesting" talent.

> We confirmed that for researchers as well as for practitioners the
> phrase "innate talent" is indeed tautologous, as Irvine suggests.
> Although it seemed conceivable that some researchers might introduce
> the word as a purely descriptive term, designating an unusual level of
> capability but without implying the existence of innate causes of high
> ability, that does not appear to happen.
yp> The word "innate" may not be redundant. There are surely elements of
yp> both innate talent and talent that has been acquired through
yp> experience in any talented performance. If two people are extremely
yp> exceptional at a given activity, who is to say that one has an innate
yp> talent and one has an acquired talent?

It does seem that some use the phrase "innate talent" fairly loosely.
Evidently, it is difficult to use it in a specific sense when few can
agree on the exact meaning of the term.

> Our target article is mainly concerned with the possible involvement
> of innate talents in excellence of the degree that thousands of people
> in every generation achieve. Such excellence, unlike the rare
> accomplishments of a few geniuses, is reasonably amenable to
> scientific study, since there are sufficient cases available for
> research investigations to be conducted. Winner and Trehub &
> Schellenberg raise the question of how far above average an
> individual's performance has to be in order to be considered
> exceptional. We do not claim to have a satisfactory answer.
yp> We return to the problem of inadequate definitions. Surely talent must
yp> be exceptional and not something thousands of people achieve.* General
yp> and truly remarkable talents are likely to warrant very different
yp> consideration.

Again it seems to be a matter of debate. Some judges may have more
stringent ideas on what talent involves than others. They may
consider how far aperson's talent deviates from the norm rather than
to what level a "talented" person achieves.

> R2. Genetic variability and the talent account
> "absurd environmentalism" implies a belief on our part that
> non-environmental factors are unimportant, and we have made it very
> clear that we do not subscribe to that view. Environments as such are
> not even among the direct influences we acknowledge. People are
> affected by environmental factors, of course, but the particular manner
> in which an individual experiences environmental events is always
> crucial.

yp> Howe rejects the talent account but does not dismiss the influential
yp> contribution of innate factors when acquiring abilities. It seems
yp> probable that our genes are merely a foundation for our abilities,
yp> neither a sole, all-powerful predictor or a insignificant biological
yp> element.

Then it appears to depend on how well a person can manipulate his/her
ability in parallel to surrounding environmental factors. One can
either take advantage of extra training and encouragement or choose to
over look their potential in light of other more reinforcing.

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