Study: practice doesn't make perfect

The old adage that "practice makes perfect" hasn't held up to scientific scrutiny.

A player without aptitude may never be able to best a 'natural,' according to the findings of new research into learning

The old adage that "practice makes perfect" hasn't held up to scientific scrutiny. Some people are really just naturals who have the capacity to make the leap from good to great.

Researchers from Michigan State University examined 14 different studies on chess players and musicians to determine exactly how much rigorous preparation benefits performance. They found that it only accounted for a third of the differences in skills levels among subjects; innate ability, age, and intelligence have a more profound impact. The study results were published last week in the journal Intelligence.

"The evidence is quite clear that some people do reach an elite level of performance without copious practice, while other people fail to do so despite copious practice," Michigan State psychology professor Zach Hambrick said in a press release.

Other studies have arrived at different conclusions. Dr. David Shanks of University College, London, England is one researcher who believes that deliberate practice - not innate talent - determines proficiency. However, Shanks notes that experience doesn't automatically translate into skills - training to meet specific goals does.

The Michigan State research team concluded that individuals have their own aptitudes and could benefit from being steered in the direction that's best suited for them. Simply put, not everyone is equally skilled at every task. We're all individuals, each with our own talents.

"If people are given an accurate assessment of their abilities and the likelihood of achieving certain goals given those abilities they may gravitate toward domains in which they have a realistic chance of becoming an expert through deliberate practice," Hambrick explained. So that's where practice comes in handy.

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