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Practice May Not Make Perfect, But It Helps

Practice May Not Make Perfect, But It HelpsNew research suggests it takes more than just practice to reach an elite skill level.

In the study, Michigan State University psychologist Dr. Zach Hambrick discovered 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.

Hambrick believes the findings confirm that it takes more than hard work to become an expert. That is, natural talent and other factors likely play a role in mastering a complicated activity.

The article has been published in the research journal Intelligence.

“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 psychology.

The debate over why and how people become experts has gone on for more than a century. Many theorists argue that thousands of hours of focused, deliberate practice is sufficient to achieve elite status, but emerging evidence points to innate talent as a contributing factor.

“Some people do reach an elite level of performance without copious practice, while other people fail to do so despite copious practice,” finds Hamrick.

Hambrick and colleagues analyzed 14 studies of chess players and musicians, 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.

The remaining two-thirds may be a result of intelligence or innate ability, and the age at which people start the particular activity, Hambrick said.

A previous study also suggested that working memory 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.”

Source: Michigan State University

Child taking music lessons photo by shutterstock.

Practice May Not Make Perfect, But It Helps

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Practice May Not Make Perfect, But It Helps. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 21 May 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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