Saturday, 1 March 2014

Nature vs Nurture; Talent vs Practice

In response to: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26384712

Practice is the immediate (proximal) cause of high performance at a particular task. The notion that anybody has evolved an "innate" talent at something as specific to the modern world as playing a violin is obviously laughable.

However: The consistently high levels of motivation that an individual needs to practice a skill for the prerequisite length of time is very much a function of innate characteristics; particularly personality traits; Notably those associated with personality disorders such as GAD, OCD & ASPDS.

Of course, the extent to which a borderline personality disorder can be harnessed to support the acquisition of extremely high levels of skill and performance is very much a function of the environment. For example:

1. The level of stress that the individual is subjected to.
2. The built environment within which they live.
3. The social culture that they are part of.
4. The support that they get from family and friends.

In summary: To exhibit high levels of performance you do need some innate characteristics, (although not necessarily the innate "talents" that we typically associate with skill), but those characteristics need to be shaped and formed in the right environment: both built and social.

It should be possible to engineer a higher incidence of high levels of performance in selected individuals, but I suspect that the interaction between personality and environment is sufficiently subtle that we would not be able to guarantee an outcome in anything other than statistical terms.