Practice makes perfect? Not so much

May 20, 2013
Practice makes perfect? Not so much
New research led by Michigan State University's Zach Hambrick suggests practice doesn't necessarily make perfect. Credit: Michigan State University

Turns out, that old "practice makes perfect" adage may be overblown. New research led by Michigan State University's Zach Hambrick finds that a copious amount of practice is not enough to explain why people differ in level of skill in two widely studied activities, chess and music.

In other words, it takes more than hard work to become an expert. Hambrick, writing in the research journal Intelligence, said natural talent and other factors likely play a role in mastering a complicated activity.

"Practice is indeed important to reach an elite level of performance, but this paper makes an overwhelming case that it isn't enough," said Hambrick, associate professor of .

The debate over why and how people become experts has existed for more than a century. Many theorists argue that thousands of hours of focused, deliberate practice is sufficient to achieve elite status.

Hambrick disagrees.

"The evidence is quite clear," he writes, "that some people do reach an elite level of performance without copious practice, while other people fail to do so despite copious practice."

Hambrick and colleagues analyzed 14 studies of players and , looking specifically at how practice was related to differences in performance. Practice, they found, accounted for only about one-third of the differences in skill in both music and chess.

So what made up the rest of the difference?

Based on existing research, Hambrick said it could be explained by factors such as intelligence or innate ability, and the age at which people start the particular activity. A previous study of Hambrick's suggested that capacity – which is closely related to general intelligence – may sometimes be the deciding factor between being good and great.

While the conclusion that practice may not make perfect runs counter to the popular view that just about anyone can achieve greatness if they work hard enough, Hambrick said there is a "silver lining" to the research.

"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."

Explore further: Research sheds light on origins of greatness

Related Stories

Research sheds light on origins of greatness

October 5, 2011
What makes people great? Popular theorists such as the New Yorker's Malcolm Gladwell and the New York Times' David Brooks argue that intelligence plays a role -- but only up to a point. Beyond that, they say, it's practice, ...

Psychologists defend the importance of general abilities

October 21, 2011
“What makes a great violinist, physicist, or crossword puzzle solver? Are experts born or made? The question has intrigued psychologists since psychology was born—and the rest of us, too, who may secretly fantasize ...

Deliberate practice: necessary but not sufficient

October 24, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Psychological scientist Guillermo Campitelli is a good chess player, but not a great one. “I’m not as good as I wanted,” he says. He had an international rating but not any of the titles ...

People learn while they sleep, study suggests

September 27, 2011
People may be learning while they're sleeping – an unconscious form of memory that is still not well understood, according to a study by Michigan State University researchers.

Musicians who learn a new melody demonstrate enhanced skill after a night's sleep

April 11, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A new study that examined how the brain learns and retains motor skills provides insight into musical skill.

Recommended for you

Study examines effects of stopping psychiatric medication

July 20, 2017
Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according ...

New study suggests that reduced insurance coverage for mental health treatment increases costs for the seriously ill

July 19, 2017
Higher out-of-pocket costs for mental health care could have the unintended consequence of increasing the use of acute and involuntary mental health care among those suffering from the most debilitating disorders, a Harvard ...

Old antibiotic could form new depression treatment

July 19, 2017
An antibiotic used mostly to treat acne has been found to improve the quality of life for people with major depression, in a world-first clinical trial conducted at Deakin University.

Wonder why those happy memories fade? You're programmed that way

July 19, 2017
We'll always have Paris." Or will we?

A child's spoken vocabulary helps them when it comes to reading new words for the first time

July 19, 2017
Children find it easier to spell a word when they've already heard it spoken, a new study led by researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD) at Macquarie University has found. The findings ...

Individualistic practices and values increasing around the world

July 18, 2017
Individualism is thought to be on the rise in Western countries, but new research suggests that increasing individualism may actually be a global phenomenon. The findings, published in Psychological Science, a journal of ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.