Howe 1

From: Hedges Joanne (
Date: Wed Mar 04 1998 - 09:44:59 GMT

> It is widely believed that the likelihood of becoming exceptionally
> competent in certain fields depends upon the presence or absence of
> inborn attributes variously labelled "talents" or "gifts" or, less
> often, "natural aptitudes".

Surely we all have 'natural aptitudes' !?

> According to an informal British survey,
> in music over three- quarters of the educators who decide which young
> people are to receive instruction believe that children cannot do
> well unless they have special innate gifts (Davis, 1994). The
> judgement that someone is talented is believed to help explain (as
> distinct from merely describing) their success.

But does the talent preceed the success, or is the talent the result ?

> It is also widely
> assumed that the innate talent that makes it possible for an
> individual to excel can be detected in early childhood.

Just because it CAN be detected, does not mean that it WILL be, so
just because it is only detected in a few, does not necessarily mean
that it only exists in a few, or indeed at all!

> This issue has important social implications. A consequence of the
> belief that innate gifts are a precondition for high achievement is
> that young people who are not identified as having innate talents in
> a particular domain are likely to be denied the help and
> encouragement they would need in order to reach high levels of
> competence. Children's progress can be affected negatively as well as
> positively by adults' expectations (Brophy & Good, 1973).

I agree with this view. I believe that anyone given the correct
encouragement and training can achieve a high standard in something.
But is achieving a high standard, talent?

> 1.1 Agreeing on a definition of innate talent
> Before considering evidence for and against the talent account, we
> should be as clear as possible about what is meant by "talent".
> A very restrictive definition could make it impossible for
> any conceivable evidence to demonstrate talent.

This seems like a non-sense thing to say. Any definition that
excludes all evidence would surely not be a valid definition.

> some people believe that talent is based on an inborn ability that
> makes it certain that its possessor will excel. This criterion is too
> strong.


> At the other extreme, it would be possible to make the definition of
> talent so vague that its existence is trivially ensured; talent might
> imply no more than that those who reach high levels of achievement
> differ biologically from others in some undefined way.

Why would this be too vague? Does the biological origin have to be
defined to make it real? Surely not.

> For the purposes of this article we will take talent to have five
> properties: (1) It originates in genetically transmitted structures
> and hence is at least partly innate. (2) Its full effects may not be
> evident at anearly stage, but there will be some advance indications,
> allowing trained people to identify the presence of talent before
> exceptional levels of mature performance have been demonstrated. (3)
> These early indications of talent provide a basis for predicting who
> is likely to excel. (4) Only a minority are talented, for if all
> children were, then there would be no way to predict or explain
> differential success. Finally (5), talents are relatively
> domain-specific.

I can only view this as a vague definition. It states that only
a minority are talented, but the definition seems to leave a lot of
room open to include a majority! This is recognised in the comment:

> In principle, it is desirable be precise about the indicators of
> talent, but in practice some imprecision is unavoidable, as in the
> phrase "relatively domain-specific" in (5). We would have preferred
> to be able tospecify the boundaries between domains, but this is not
> currently possible. Nor can one specify just how much a trait should
> facilitate the acquisition of special abilities to qualify as a
> talent: the available empirical evidence is too coarse. We allow the
> possibility that an innate talent can take different forms; so saying
> that each of two children have "a talent for music" need not imply
> that both are advantaged in precisely the same way. A domain may draw
> on many different skills, and individuals' competence levels on them
> may not be highly intercorrelated (Sloboda, 1985; 1991).

So way not wait until more evidence is available before defining
talent? It does not seem useful to have such a vague definition,
especially as:

> Our five properties are meant to provide a working definition that is
> acceptable to researchers and captures lay intuitions.

I do not feel that this even comes close.

> Researchers as well as educators rely upon the talent account, making
> it important to examine its validity.

I agree!

> Criticisms of the talent account
> have been raised by Ericsson and Charness (1995a; 1995b), who
> provide substantial evidence that the effects of extended deliberate
> practice are more decisive than is commonly believed. They argue that
> although children undoubtedly differ in the ease with which they
> perform various skills (a fact to which Gardner, 1995, has drawn
> attention in challenging their conclusions), no early predictors of
> adult performance have been found.

I believe that more work is needed on the definition of talent,
before it can be decided where it's origin lies. This can be seen by
the varied and wide use of the term.

Hedges Joanne

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