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Gardner, H. (1995). Expert performance: Its structure and acquisition: Comment. American Psychologist, 50, 802-803.

Author of the summary: David Zach Hambrick, 1998, gt8781a@prism.gatech.edu

Gardner challenges Ericsson and Charness's view that acquisition of and individual differences in expert performance can be explained solely in terms of amount of deliberate practice. His argument is that Ericsson and Charness make a weak case for the view that innate factors do not predispose certain individuals to learn certain skills faster than others. That is, "The crucial question . . . is whether once a child has begun to work in a domain, there will be quantitative or qualitative differences in the way in which he or she approaches, and succeeds in, that domain" (p. 802). Garder dismisses the deliberate practice notion for several reasons. First, g is relatively impervious to practice effects, and intelligent children are more likely to become "expert thinkers" than less intelligent children. In other words, basic abilities influence the ease with which and rate at which skills are acquired. Second, Gardner points out that people who are most likely to engage in extensive deliberate practice are also the people who are most successful in the domain. By way of example, "If one plays dozens of games of chess but never wins, if one practices piano for several months but is unable to remember a piece from one day to the next, or if one learns algorithms for mental arithmetic but constantly makes computational errors or confuses digits, then how likely is it that one will persevere in such an endeavor?" (p. 803). Third, Gardner questions whether laboratory tasks can really capture the essence of expert performance. Finally, Gardner contends that while training must play an important role in the development of expert performance, ignoring the influence of individual differences in organismic factors such as motivation and "computational powers" diminishes the validity of Ericsson and Charness's proposal.


The major point of Ericsson and Charness's reply is the attribution of individual differences in abilities to "the individuals' history of relevant activities that differentially benefit the acquisition of associated skills" (p. 803). They view what Gardner calls "intelligences" as skills, which facilitate the acquisition of related skills. That is, "we prefer to attribute the development of . . . prerequisite abilities to extensive prior experience and relevant activities. Such engagement may be sufficient to account for any individual differences prior to the start of training" (p. 803). (But how would Ericsson and Charness account for the finding that abilities measured by intelligence tests seem to be genetically influenced?) They counter Gardner's suggestion that success leads to more deliberate practice, which in turn leads to more success, on the grounds that deliberate practice activities are designed in order to ensure success. Finally, Ericsson and Charness comment that the debate over talent vs. training will never be resolved through appeal to common sense. Instead,


Only careful observation and study of differences in the type and amount of activities associated with the longitudinal emergence of abilities and performance in normal and ‘very talented' children will allow us to determine the potential and possible limits of explanations based on characteristics acquired through focused and extended activity" (p. 804).


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