In-Born Genius

It turns out that practice isn't what makes perfect, at least for those who are most likely to have significant accomplishments. But it isn't being born to the right parents, either -- at least, not 'right' in the sense of 'rich.'
Many of the innovators who are advancing science, technology and culture are those whose unique cognitive abilities were identified and supported in their early years through enrichment programmes such as Johns Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youth — which Stanley began in the 1980s as an adjunct to SMPY. At the start, both the study and the centre were open to young adolescents who scored in the top 1% on university entrance exams....

“Whether we like it or not, these people really do control our society,” says Jonathan Wai, a psychologist at the Duke University Talent Identification Program in Durham, North Carolina, which collaborates with the Hopkins centre. Wai combined data from 11 prospective and retrospective longitudinal studies2, including SMPY, to demonstrate the correlation between early cognitive ability and adult achievement. “The kids who test in the top 1% tend to become our eminent scientists and academics, our Fortune 500 CEOs and federal judges, senators and billionaires,” he says.

Such results contradict long-established ideas suggesting that expert performance is built mainly through practice — that anyone can get to the top with enough focused effort of the right kind. SMPY, by contrast, suggests that early cognitive ability has more effect on achievement than either deliberate practice or environmental factors such as socio-economic status.
I happen to know several friends who have taught at the Center for Talented Youth (CTY), a number of years running. If anything, their commentary reinforces the idea that practice isn't what makes these kids succeed: they have all openly expressed skepticism that CTY does any good at all for these kids. The fact of being smart enough to be admitted is the real thing guaranteeing lifetime success, not what goes on in these enrichment programs.

The other thing they tell me is that CTY is very heavily Asian. I wonder how much of that is because of the alleged disparity in favor of Asians in IQ, and how much is because of the discrimination against Asians in university admissions. If you know your kid is going to suffer in the college admissions process, you're probably more inclined to pay CTY's rates to get them what amounts to a favorable recommendation. The smart kid from any other background is more likely to be able to coast on their test scores.


douglas said...

“The kids who test in the top 1% tend to become our eminent scientists and academics, our Fortune 500 CEOs and federal judges, senators and billionaires,”

See, the market really does work. Could saved them a lot of money on the study if they'd just asked.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Your last line is the important one. Discipline and focus might also turn out to be genetic, but for now, harnessing that candlepower is likely to improve a smart kid's life. Or more exactly, just not letting him coast.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Notice, BTW, the paucity of evidence behind the assertions of those who are critical of the study or even its idea. They merely assert, say thus-and-so is bad for children who do/don't get selected. It's not the whole story, they say. No one ever claimed it was. But it's huge, and they would prefer it not be.

Ymar Sakar said...

Practicing failure is meaningless. Practicing for success is what matters, and that comes partly from experience and partly from watching other people's mistakes, as well as being taught by a very experienced/wise mentor.

It is something martial arts communities and teachers argue incessantly about. Which teaching method is correct?