What Separates the Gifted from the Schlubs and How Praise Can Backfire

What makes someone gifted?

Raw talent?

Sure. An apptitutde for something always helps. But it appears it’s not enough. True expertise takes work. And those trying to help (i.e. parents, teachers, coaches) can hinder if they give the wrong kind of praise.

I wanted to share three articles reporting the results of a number of interesing studies on expertise which often appears as a skill level that seems unobtainable by normal, motivated individuals.

The Meadow Mount School of Music

This music school in the Adirondacks has “trained such luminaries as Pinchas Zukerman, Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, Lynn Harrell, and Yo-Yo Ma.” A number of researchers wanted to see what the difference was between the students who seemed most skilled and those who weren’t. They divided students “into three skill levels, including one the faculty had identified as having the best chance of becoming world-class soloists.” Then they looked at the differences.

According to the report, “the results were clear-cut, with little room for any sort of inscrutable God-given talent. The elite musicians had simply practiced far more than the others…Psychologists found a second attribute in elite players that is less obvious than sheer hours of practice. While most of us think of practice as the repetition of tough spots (and this is how many young people do practice), elite musicians, they found, took a different approach.”  Read full article.

The majority of childhood prodigies never fulfill their early promise

Why? According to these researchers it’s because so many early-bloomers get warped by their experience and fail to develop perseverance. More here.

Praise that Undermines Achievement

It appears that how we praise achievement affects performance. Sometimes in large and startling ways.

You may think that it’s good to praise your child for being “smart” or “good” in some subject. But there’s growing evidence that giving kids such labels doesn’t improve or motivate performance, but actually reduces it.

Psychologist Carol Dweck and her team have studied the effect of praise on students in a variety of settings. “Repeating her experiments, Dweck found this effect of praise on performance held true for students of every socioeconomic class. It hit both boys and girls—the very brightest girls especially (they collapsed the most following failure). Even preschoolers weren’t immune to the inverse power of praise.” So what type of praise actually works? Read here.

When does genius bloom?

We often think genius must be tied to being precocity. After all, Motzart was doing musical flips when he was still a kid.  For writers, however, it appears this isn’t the case. More here.

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