Research at Michigan State University has found huge amounts of practice is not enough to explain why people differ in levels of skill in two widely studied activities, chess and music.
"Practice is indeed important to reach an elite level of performance, but this paper makes an overwhelming case that it isn't enough," study leader Zach Hambrick said in a university release Tuesday.
Many researchers have argued thousands of hours of focused, deliberate practice is sufficient to lift almost anyone to elite skills status.
Not so, says Hambrick, who analyzed 14 studies of chess players and musicians focused on how practice was related to differences in performance.
"The evidence is quite clear," Hambrick wrote in the journal Intelligence, "that some people do reach an elite level of performance without copious practice, while other people fail to do so despite copious practice."
The findings, he said, could be explained by factors such as intelligence or innate ability, and the age at which people start the particular activity.
However, there could be a "silver lining" in the findings about practice, Hambrick said.
"If people are given an accurate assessment of their abilities and the likelihood of achieving certain goals given those abilities," he said, "they may gravitate toward domains in which they have a realistic chance of becoming an expert through deliberate practice."
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