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Study Reports Practice Does Not Make Perfect

Update Date: May 21, 2013 03:28 PM EDT

Children often hear the idiom, 'Practice Makes Perfect,' which means that if one practices something enough times, one will be able to perfect the activity. Several people have used this concept in teaching young children to keep trying and to keep striving for perfection. The popular author, Malcolm Gladwell, in his book "Outliers" also addressed this idiom as well. In the book, Gladwell states that the 10,000th  hour of practice will equal greatness. Despite all of these inspiring ways of encouraging people to practice, a new study reports that practice does not make perfect. This study concluded that for some people, no matter how many hours are put in to a particular activity, perfection, to a certain extent since there is no such thing as perfection, is unachievable.

The research team, headed by Zach Hambrick, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University, decided to study the concept of the 10,000th hour of practice. The team looked at data that was already compiled from 14 different studies of musicians and chess players. These respective people were ranked accordingly to their level of expertise, which acted as a measurement of perfection. After calculations, the researchers found that the correlation between ranking and number of hours spent practicing was not that significant. The team concluded that for musicians, only about 30 percent of the variance seen in the rankings could be due to hours spent practicing. For chess players, the percentage was 34.

"We looked at the two most widely studied domains of expertise research: chess and music," says Hambrick. "It's clear from this data that deliberate practice doesn't account for all, nearly all or even most of the variance in performance in chess and music."

Based from these percentages, the researchers concluded that one's position on a ranking did not have to do with the number of hours spent practicing. These findings suggest that some people are born mediocre since practicing for long hours did not help improve their skills. However, several experts are critical of the study, reporting several limiting factors.

K. Anders Ercicsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, stated that the variable of time could have been incorrect since many of the studies relied on self-reports. Scott Barry Kaufman, an assistant professor of psychology at New York University, said that researchers should avoid focusing on practice versus talent. He believes that overall personal characteristics determine who is ranked one versus 10.

"I prefer to wait for future studies that show what the detailed training factors and the detailed genetic factors are," Kaufman added.

The study was published in Intelligence.

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