Tag Archives: Nature versus nurture

The 10,000 hour rule: Some skepticism

28 Aug

The 10,000 hour rule, the claim that extensive practice trumps native ability, has captured the public’s imagination. The rule derives from the work of psychologist K. Anders Ericsson.  Here is a succinct statement of Ericsson’s position:

“In most domains of expertise, individuals begin in their childhood a regimen of effortful activities (deliberate practice) designed to optimize improvement. Individual differences, even among elite performers, are closely related to assessed amounts of deliberate practice. Many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years” – source

I think Ericsson’s work is important and deliberate does play an important role in the development of talent. However, an important paper by Philip Ackerman in the journal Intelligence argues convincingly that the 10,000 hour rule is an extreme claim not supported by the evidence. In his words:

“Extreme positions on this controversy are fundamentally silly — both nature and nurture are necessary determinants of expert/elite performance, but neither alone represents a sufficient causal factor. “

Here is a typical presentation of the 10,000 hour rule:

ericsson-accumulated-deliberate-practice

(source: http://expertadvantage.wordpress.com/2010/11/29/10000hours1/)

Note, however, that the chart is a representation of mean values. It does not show the variance around the mean. That variance is critical because it would tell us how much of performance is unexplained by the rule.

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