Motivation Article #7: Expert Performance
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
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
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