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PSYC 471
Richard Koestner

Motivation Article #7: Expert Performance Abstract: Research has shown that expert performance is predominantly mediated by acquired complex skills and physiological adaptations. For elite performers, supervised practice starts at very young ages and is maintained at high daily levels for more than a decade. Performers can acquire skills that circumvent basic limits on working memory capacity and sequential processing. Deliberate practice cal also lead to anatomical changes resulting from adaptations to intense physical activity. There are a few different approaches: 1) The Human Information-Processing Approach, or the Skills Approach This approach attempts to explain exceptional performance in terms of knowledge and skills acquired through experience. This approach was originally developed by Newell and Simon. The basic information-processing system with its elementary information processes and basic capacities remains intact during skill acquisition and outstanding performance results from incremental increases in knowledge and skill due to the extended effects of experience. The mechanisms of learning can be extrapolated to account for expertise and expert performance by an incremental accumulation of knowledge and skill over a decade of intense experience in the domain. 2) This approach focuses on the individual differences of exceptional performers that would allow them to succeed in a specific domain. Gardner, in 1983, in Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, argued that exceptional performance results from a close match between the individuals intelligence profile and the demands of the particular domain. A major concern in this approach is the early identification and nurturing of children with high levels of the required intelligence for a specific domain. 3) Ericsson and Charness study of expert performance This approach involves the identification of reproducible superior performance in the everyday life of exceptional performers. Extended training alters the cognitive and physiological processes of expert to a greater degree than is commonly believed possible. 1) Traditional View of the Role of Talent in Exceptional Performance Since the emergence of civilization, philosophers have speculated about the origin of highly desirable individual attributes. It was generally believed that these attributes were gifts from the gods. Ever since, there has been a bias toward attributing high abilities to gifts rather than experience. One important reason for this bias in attribution is linked to immediate legitimization of various activities associated with the gifts. If the gods have bestowed a child with a special gift in a given art from, who would dare to oppose its development, and who would not facilitate its expression so everyone could enjoy its wonderful creations? Later, our civilization underwent major social changes leading to a greater social mobility through the development of a skilled middle class and major progress in the accumulation of scientific knowledge. It became increasingly clear that individuals could dramatically increase their performance through education and training, if they had the necessary drive and motivation. In 1759, Edward Young argued that an important characteristic of genius and talent was the apparent absence of learning and training, and thus talent and acquired skill became opposites. In the 1900s, Galton presented a comprehensive scientific theory integrating talent and training that has continued to influence the conception of exceptional performance among the general population. Galton was the first scientist to investigate empirically the possibility that excellence in diverse fields and domains has a common set of causes. Galton argued that three factors had to be present: innate ability, eagerness to work and an adequate power of doing a great deal of very laborious work. Galton acknowledged a necessary but not sufficient role for instruction and practice in achieving exceptional performance. According to this view, performance increases monotonically as a function of practice toward an asymptote representing a fixed upper bound on performance. If all possible changes in performance related to training are attained after a fairly limited period of practice, this argument logically implies that individual differences in final performance must reflect innate talents and natural abilities. In Frames of Mind, Gardner proposed seven intelligences: linguistic, musical, spatial, logical-mathematical, bodily kinaesthetic, and interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence. Gardner wrote, Most outstanding musicians are discovered at an early age... training seems to have comparatively little effect in reducing these differences. Young children trained with the Suzuki method began training without previous signs of musical talent attained levels comparable to music prodigies of earlier times and gained access to the best musical teachers in the world. The salient aspect of talent, according to Gardner, is no longer the innate structure (gift) but rather the potential for achievement and the capacity to rapidly learn material relevant to one of the intelligences. Gardners view is consistent with Suzukis belief in individual differences in innate general ability to learn, although Suzukis innate abilities were not specific to a particular domain. Suzuki argued that every child can be highly educated if he is given the proper training. Gardners own hunch about strong intellectual abilities was that an individual so blessed does not merely have an easy time learning new patterns; he learns them so readily that it is virtually impossible for him to forget them. A) Performance of Prodigies and Savants When the large collection of reports of amazing and inexplicable behaviour is surveyed, one finds that most of them cannot even be firmly substantiated and can only rarely be predicated under controlled laboratory conditions.Accurate pitch (AP): only 0.01% of the general population has AP. Many outstanding musicians display AP. The characteristics of AP would seem to meet all of the criteria of innate talent. In a recent review, researchers concluded that AP can be acquired by anyone, but only during a limited period of development. Rather than being a sign of innate talent, AP appears to be natural consequence of appropriate instruction and of ample opportunities to interact with a musical instrument at very young ages. Feldman showed that acquisition of skills in prodigies follows the same sequence of stages as in other individuals in the same domain. The primary difference is that prodigies attain higher levels faster and at younger ages. Most child prodigies never attain exceptional levels of performance as adults. Furthermore, the vast majority of exceptional adult performers were never child prodigies, but instead they started instruction early and increased their performance due to a sustained high level of training. The role of early instruction and maximal parental support appears to be much more important than innate talent. Savants are individuals with a low level of general intellectual fu8nctioinig who are able to perform at high levels in some special tasks. Studies of performance of savants have shown them to reflect acquired skills. Music savants, like their normally intelligent expert counterparts, need access to stored patterns and retrieval structures to enable them to r
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