Does practice really make perfect?

July 16, 2014, Rice University
Credit: Photo courtesy Rice University/ThinkStockPhotos.com

Does practice really make perfect? It's an age-old question, and a new study from Rice University, Princeton University and Michigan State University finds that while practice won't make you perfect, it will usually make you better at what you're practicing.

"This question is the subject of a long-running debate in psychology," said Fred Oswald, professor and chair of psychology at Rice and one of the study's co-authors. "Why do so few people who are involved in sports such as golf, such as the violin or careers such as law or medicine ever reach an expert level of performance?"

The study, "Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports, Education and Professions: A Meta-Analysis," reviewed 88 previous studies (more than 11,135 total participants) published through 2014 that investigated relevant research on practice predicting performance in music, games, sports, educational and occupational domains.

Within each domain, the researchers averaged the reported results across all relevant studies. They found that "" – defined as engagement in structured activities created specifically to improve performance in a specific field – explained 26 percent of the variance in performance for games, 21 percent for music, 18 percent for sports, 4 percent for education and less than 1 percent for professions.

"Deliberate practice was a strong overall predictor of success in many performance domains, and not surprisingly, people who report practicing a lot generally tend to perform at a higher level than people who practice less," Oswald said. "However, perhaps the more important contribution of our study is that no matter how strongly practice predicted performance in our findings, there was always statistical room for other personal factors to predict learning a skill and performing successfully, including basic abilities."

Oswald noted that significant amounts of research have already identified basic abilities as also being important to predicting performance, but some researchers tend to minimize them and consider practice as the sole determinant of performance.

The researchers conclude that while practice will not make perfect for all people, it will make almost everyone better.

"Other factors matter as well, but even so, no one says that practice will ever hurt you; but be careful if you are walking tightropes," Oswald said.

The research paper will appear in an upcoming edition of Psychological Science.

Explore further: Becoming an expert takes more than practice

More information: Psychological Science, pss.sagepub.com/content/early/ … 97614535810.abstract

Related Stories

Becoming an expert takes more than practice

July 2, 2014
Deliberate practice may not have nearly as much influence in building expertise as we thought, according to research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Practice makes perfect? Not so much

May 20, 2013
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 ...

How you practice matters for learning a skill quickly

January 7, 2014
Practice alone doesn't make perfect, but learning can be optimized if you practice in the right way, according to new research based on online gaming data from more than 850,000 people.

Rosin up that bow, maestro: And thank your genes

June 26, 2014
Mom or dad may have driven you to cello rehearsal all those years, but you can also thank your genes for pushing you to practice, according to new research led by a Michigan State University professor.

Athletes' fear of failure likely to lead to 'choke,' study shows

May 7, 2014
A new study by sports scientists at Coventry University and Staffordshire University shows that anxiety about a competitive situation makes even the most physically active of us more likely to slip-up.

Recommended for you

Baby brains help infants figure it out before they try it out

January 17, 2018
Babies often amaze their parents when they seemingly learn new skills overnight—how to walk, for example. But their brains were probably prepping for those tasks long before their first steps occurred, according to researchers.

Tracking the impact of early abuse and neglect

January 17, 2018
Children who experience abuse and neglect early in life are more likely to have problems in social relationships and underachieve academically as adults.

Study: No evidence to support link between violent video games and behaviour

January 16, 2018
Researchers at the University of York have found no evidence to support the theory that video games make players more violent.

Can psychedelic drugs 'reconnect' depressed patients with their emotions?

January 15, 2018
Imperial research suggests psilocybin can help relieve the symptoms of depression, without the 'dulling' of emotions linked with antidepressants.

Study listens in on speech development in early childhood

January 15, 2018
If you've ever listened in on two toddlers at play, you might have wondered how much of their babbling might get lost in translation. A new study from the University of Toronto provides surprising insights into how much children ...

Study suggests people dislike you more for humblebragging than for regular boasting

January 12, 2018
A team of researchers from Harvard University and UNC-Chapel Hill has conducted a study regarding humblebragging—in which a person boasts about an achievement but tries to make it sound less boastful by minimizing it—and ...

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.