10,000 hours to genius theory questioned
30 June 2014 | By Jane Bainbridge
US — The concept that performers can reach elite status through 10,000 hours of practice rather than innate talent, championed by Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, is challenged in a new study.
The research was led by David Hambrick and looked at studies of chess players that provided information on people’s highest ability level achieved along with their history of practice. They found that between 2005 and 2012 six studies had been done, involving more than 1000 players internationally in total.
On average, the amount of deliberate practice accounted for 34% of variance in chess ability, which although an impressive proportion, was insufficient to explain why some players achieved greatness and others didn’t. And there was a huge range in the deliberate practice completed by players of different standards. One study, looking purely at grandmasters found the range of practice they’d invested was between 832 and 24,284 hours. Looking at players who achieved only intermediate level, 13% of them had completed more practice than the average amount invested by the grandmasters.
Hambrick and his team did a similar analysis of past studies looking at elite musicians, the majority of which were pianists. Based on eight past papers, they found deliberate practice accounted for 30% of the variance in music performance, as measured by formal tests, expert ratings and rankings. Once again the evidence pointed to a wide variation in the amount of practice completed by different musicians.
“We found that deliberate practice does not account for all, nearly all, or even most variance in [elite music or chess] performance,” wrote the researchers. It appears that some people failed to achieve the highest level, even after completing more than 10,000 hours of practice while others achieved this level with more modest practice levels.
The researchers said that another critical factor to success was the age at which people began; this remained a predictive factor even after subtracting the influence of practice. “There may be a critical period for acquiring complex skills,” the researchers said.
Other relevant factors include intelligence and working memory capacity; personality and genes.
Looks like Nakamura’s brain. No wonder he is very smart.
Of course age has something to do with it. Look at language.
But 10,000 hours for a person of average aptitude / intelligence or better is a guarantee of expert status only, not elite status. Elite status requires an elite work ethic and elite aptitude. Many have the former, but few have the latter.
I know precisely one GM personally. He beats me with rook odds and doesn’t work up a sweat doing it, even though I’ve been playing for 44 years and am not exactly a patzer. Yet he’s the worst bridge player I’ve ever met. He even sucks at euchre. His brain was seemingly built for chess and left him totally bereft of card sense. There’s no explaining the human brain, and in the end this theory and study – as interesting as it is – will benefit nobody other than those receiving the grants to fund it.