Latest Stories


Of practice and proficiency


One question biologists have been tackling is known as “nature vs nurture,” or figuring out how much of one’s behavior is inherited and how much is learned or influenced by the surrounding environment. With this in mind, a team of psychologists from America, England and Australia focused on the question of whether or not expertise in a particular skill can be achieved solely through years of practice and hard work.

Their analysis of several studies suggests that the saying “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” can be true, if applied toward skills at which individuals have already displayed an inclination.

“If people are given an accurate assessment of their abilities and the likelihood of achieving certain goals given those abilities,” the team wrote, “they may gravitate toward domains in which they have a realistic chance of becoming an expert through deliberate practice.”

Though none of the studies analyzed by the researchers focused on families, it’s hard not to reference the case of the Polgar sisters from Hungary. Their father conducted his own studies on developing excellence in a skill by training his children to play chess from a very early age, supplementing these lessons with coaching from professional chess players.

Two of the Polgar sisters went on to become the first female chess grandmasters while still in their teens, while the other attained international grandmaster status. The youngest of the three sisters, considered the family’s prodigy, remains the only woman ranked among the world’s top 100 chess players.

The team’s article focused on more than a dozen studies conducted among chess players and musicians to find out how much of a role practice played in differentiating skill levels.

The team found that practice by itself couldn’t account for the differences in skill levels. This finding helped them later on in disproving two common ideas as myths.

The first idea is that everyone can reach the same levels of excellence if they diligently practice. The second idea complements the first, suggesting that at least 10 years or 10,000 hours of practice is required to achieve this level of excellence.

The need to disprove the notion that “practice makes perfect” has been raised in other studies, though for difference concerns. For example, in March, Australian researchers found Internet gaming sites have lured people into spending—and losing—real money when they think they’ve figured out how to win when playing the game in practice mode.

The researchers concluded that the studies they analyzed showed that “regardless of the amount of deliberate practice they accumulate,” an expert level of proficiency may never be reached by some. “This conclusion runs counter to the egalitarian view that anyone can achieve most anything he or she wishes with enough hard work,” the researchers wrote.

The psychologists’ article appeared online May 15 in the journal Intelligence.

E-mail the author at massie@massie.com.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: column , health and wellness , Massie Santos Ballon , `nature vs nurture’

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94


  • Anti-gay demo in Ethiopia cancelled
  • Obama launches measures to support solar energy in US
  • Nebraska toddler gets stuck inside claw machine
  • Philippine eagle rescued by Army turned over to DENR
  • Gunmen attack Iraq military base, kill 10 soldiers
  • Sports

  • Vietnam says it will not host Asian Games
  • Nadal passes clay landmark with 300th victory
  • Wawrinka waltzes through with Monte Carlo walkover
  • Power Pinays smash India in Asian Women’s Club volleyball opener
  • PH youth boxers off to stumbling start in AIBA World tilt
  • Lifestyle

  • Ford Mustang turns 50 atop Empire State Building
  • Pro visual artists, lensmen to judge Pagcor’s photo contest
  • ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  • This is not just a farm
  • Clams and garlic, softshell crab risotto–not your usual seafood fare for Holy Week
  • Entertainment

  • Cannes film festival launches race for 2014 Palme d’Or
  • Jones, Godard, Cronenberg in competition at Cannes
  • Will Arnett files for divorce from Amy Poehler
  • American rapper cuts own penis, jumps off building
  • Jay Z to bring Made in America music fest to LA
  • Business

  • Total says makes ‘very promising’ oil find off Ivory Coast
  • ‘Chinese Twitter’ firm Weibo to go public in US
  • World stocks subdued, Nikkei flat on profit taking
  • Asia stocks fail to match Wall Street gains
  • Fired Yahoo exec gets $58M for 15 months of work
  • Technology

  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Filipinos #PrayForSouthKorea
  • Taylor Swift tries video blogging, crashes into fan’s bridal shower
  • DOF: Tagaytay, QC best at handling funds
  • Smart phone apps and sites perfect for the Holy Week
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 17, 2014
  • A humbler Church
  • Deepest darkness
  • ‘Agnihotra’ for Earth’s health
  • It’s the Holy Week, time to think of others
  • Global Nation

  • Malaysia quarantines 64 villagers over MERS virus
  • DFA: 2 Filipinos survive Korean ferry disaster
  • PH asks airline passengers to check for MERS
  • Syria most dangerous country for journalists, PH 3rd—watchdog
  • Japan says visa-free entry still a plan
  • Marketplace