Howe Comms 13-15 Weisberg Winner Zohar

From: Payne, Ben (
Date: Wed Feb 25 1998 - 17:08:04 GMT

WEISBERG introduces his commentary by suggesting that Howe's
article is not speific enough in terms of generalising his beliefs on
how practice is involved in different skills.

The point he makes is that there are a diverse number of different
skills that could be discussed when looking at the role that talent
and practice may have on these skills. These different skills require
varied demands and abilities, depending on what the activity
involves. Weisberg goes on to write:

> One can arrange these
> domains on a continuum concerning degree of innovation. At the
> non-innovative end is swimming (and related activities, such as diving
> or figure skating), where the individual attempts to do something in
> exactly the same way each time. Some innovation is seen in skills in
> memorizing, where the to-be- remembered material is new. Innovation is
> also involved in performance of classical or popular music, in
> individual interpretation and expression. Finally, in playing tennis
> or chess (or basketball, or composing classical or popular music, or
> playing jazz), much of the product is novel.

To go on, the work of Mozart is discussed (as the classic example
of "innate talent"), and weisberg provides some stronger evidence to
support the idea that practice and "immersion" in music as a
discipline would have had a significant role to play in Mozart's
development as a composer, which has often been presumed to be the
result of a special inborn talent that he and few others possessed.
> Mozarts first seven
> works in this genre (K. 37, K. 39-41; K. 107, 1-3) produced between the
> ages of 11 - 16, are not, strictly speaking, works by Mozart: they are
> arrangements of works by several other composers. Thus, these early
> works are a visible manifestation of practice. In addition, of the
> concerti which are wholly music by Mozart (#5 ff), it is not until #9
> (K. 271) that one reaches a work that is acknowledged as a masterwork
> (Landon, 1956). Mozart, then 21, had been immersed in music for 16
> years, and had worked in the genre for 10 years. Thus, in Mozarts case
> the preparation years were filled with learning from practice, in the
> sense of immersion in the works of others, rather than the simple
> outflowing of innate talent.

The fact that Mozart had spent so much of his early years, (a time
when children certainly have an innate talent for learning), shows
perhaps that his amasing "early" work was not the result of his
special skill but infact the other way round.

> Similar conclusions can be drawn from an examination of the
> development of the Lennon - McCartney song-writing team
> (Weisberg, in press). By 1961, the time of
> their first hit song, they had put in some 1200 hours in performance
> alone, playing initially at school dances and small local clubs, and
> later in larger venues. This averages to close to 1 performance per
> day. This figure was surely augmented by practice sessions. In
> addition, the performances themselves were much like practice, because
> their early repertoire consisted mainly of very faithful cover versions
> of works of other performers; only gradually did their performances
> center on their own material.

The conclusion, therefore of this commentary gives stronger
evidence of the Howe point of view. Weisberg does go on however to

> It must be noted, however,
> that the evidence presented here is correlational; perhaps during
> preparation time something else happened that facilitated creative
> development. Maturation, for example, might be crucial; the
> individuals in question might have gotten better no matter what had
> occurred in those years.

> Unfortunately, if one wishes to deal with individuals such as Mozart,
> one has no choice but to use a case study method, which leaves open
> some questions. However, it seems significant that the preparation
> time in these cases and many others (Weisberg, in press) was spent in
> extensive work within the domain, even for individuals who reached the
> highest levels of creativity within those domains.

WINNER takes an opposing view point against Howe et al's theory
that innate talent is not a prerequisite for expertise in abilities.
She suggests that it is because of innate talents that people choose
to follow the path that involves years of practice and hard work. The
desire and drive to spend so much time perfecting their skills may
well be a part of the innate quality that "talent" holds.

> The fact that musicians received lessons and had
> supervised practice in childhood does not argue against the existence
> of innate differences in ability to become a musician. While we
> cannot directly measure "innate talent," heritability differences are
> most likely to manifest themselves in differences in ease of mastery
> and level reached.

> Howe et al. admit that it is quality rather than quantity of
> practice that is important. But the quality of practice is itself
> likely to be constrained by innate ability. To practice well in
> music, one must be able to imagine how a piece should sound, and then
> aim for this. Without this "musical ability," one is doomed to repeat
> the same mistakes over and over again.

> Existence of precocious behaviors prior to instruction

Howe's claim that the ability shown by some children to read unaided is
falsely disputed because the parents make records of their ability and
therefore are involved in some way to help is itself diputed by Winner
by means of defining the difference between recording and instructing.(
I am not sure of the validity that this example holds, due to the
nature of reading and its requirements; but I suppose I cannot say too
much without seeing the apparent evidence that has been seen.)

> Savants

The example of savants is used as autistic children show a relatively
high (when compared to non-autistics) occurence of incredibly high
skilled abilities in skills such as pitch perception, detailed drawing
and piano playing. That is not to say that it is something that all
autistics convey, but its occurence has been well documented. (Sorry,
my dissertation is on autism so I am tending to ramble on a bit!) It
can be argued that these "talents" are infact an ability to mimic
rather than an ability to produce unique pieces of work.
Obsessionality, as winner discusses, cannot be the reason, as many
"obsessed" individuals will not necessarily reach their goal.

> Heritability of musical talent.
> The evidence presented against heritability of musical ability is not
> convincing. Comparisons of monozygotic twins reared together vs. apart
> can tell us only about the influence of the environment. Coon & Carey
> (1989) carry out the relevant comparison, and find only minimally
> higher correlations between dizogotic than monozygotic twins. But if
> their sample contained only musically average individuals, this study
> cannot inform us about innate precursors to high achievement.

The article goes on to suggest that Howe et al. admit that ability can
have partly genetic origins (and therefore innateness), but then go on
to claim that this cannot be a predictor of talent. There is some
confusion with what they accept and don't accept in terms of innateness
and genetically influenced, and the effect this may have. It is
accepted (by Winner) that training in certain domains can benefit those
who do not necessarily have the talent to start off with.

ZOHAR's commentary focuses on mathematical abilities to illustrate the
existence of innate talent. He believes that using musical composition
as a means of providing evidence for this argument is not appropriate.
the influence of the musical culture on ability and the way in which it
is measured cannot, according to Zohar, show evidence of the genetic
influences involved in natural expert ability. Instead....
> Outstanding mathematical reasoning ability offers much better proof
> of genetic influence.
The presence of talent does not necessarily have to be detected
by experts in a particular field, such as music, to warrant its
existence. Instead, Zohar argues, that it is sufficient to say
individuals may actually have a genetically predisposed ability to
pick up skills more easily than others. If so, the allele for this
ability could be a way to recognise talent before training of any
kind has influenced the way an individual performs. The definition of
talent is therefore an important influence in determining how this
argument is considered. If it is a general ability to learn certain
types of skill, this argument would make sense.
> It may be that talent is present and that currently experts cannot
> detect it, but that it can be demonstrated all the sa me that
> individuals differ constitutionally in their ability to develop
> certain skills. If behavior genetic methods such as twin studies or
> adoption studies can show that there is genetic influence on the
> eventual expression of a specific ability, such a s musical ability or
> mathematical ability, then it does not signify that it cannot be
> detected before any training takes place.
Mathematical ability, zohar argues, gives a clearer and more
convincing account of innate talent. The environment is not a major
influence as is the case for musical performance.
> Musical performance is not the best candidate for detecting innate
> talent, since there is so much structure in the culture that supports
> it. It is an expensive activity - musical instruments, music lessons
> and leisure for practice all require parental su pport. It is less
> likely to flourish in a discouraging milieu, which in turn will make
> it more difficult to tell apart the nature and nurture components. A
> much better domain is outstanding mathematical reasoning ability
> (OMRA). This ability is often expr essed in very young children, and
> precocity is the rule rather than the exception.
   Ther are numerous examples of natural mathematical ability, two of
which are described in Zohars commentary. Outstanding mathematical
reasoning ability has been shown in people who have no mathematical
background and it can therefore be said that its origin must be
genetically based.

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