The Situationist

The Situation of “Natural Talent”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 6, 2011

From Harvard Gazette:

Fields such as music, math, and chess have had a predilection for a long time to seek out the youngest and most accomplished among them. According to Chia-Jung Tsay, this is because “we want to seek something that’s inherent to us. We associate accomplishment at a young age with something that comes effortlessly.” But does this desire to seek out “natural” talent eventually skew our view of what talent is?

* * *

Tsay and her adviser, [Situationist Contributor] Mahzarin Banaji, the Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, began looking at different domains, considering which fields more strongly emphasize natural talent over hard work and experience. They found that music was the most often cited for natural talent, and business was most cited for hard work.

“Venture capitalists recognize that hard work and background knowledge in the field matter a lot,” said Tsay. “It’s the same for a doctor or a lawyer, where hard work and years of experience are what make us successful. But I think there’s a little more subjectivity in evaluation in artistic fields.”

To test this, Tsay and Banaji brought in more than 100 professionally trained musicians. Each participant was presented with two profiles of two professional musicians, and a sample musical clip to listen to from each musician. The participants were then asked questions about how talented and successful they perceived the performer to be, and how willing they might be to hire this person.

In fact, both clips were the same musical excerpt, and the profiles differed only in their mention of whether the musician had natural or learned talent. The results ultimately showed two effects: “We found even in experts and ostensibly professionally trained musicians, most of them could not tell that the recordings were the same. And on average, people seemed to prefer the ‘naturally’ talented individual, even when they said they believed hard work was more important than natural talent.”

The dramatic results suggest, according to Banaji, “a crucial disparity between what experts espouse, and perhaps even consciously believe, is the best indicator of talent, and how they actually behave.”

More.

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3 Responses to “The Situation of “Natural Talent””

  1. [...] The Situation of “Natural Talent” – via Situationist – Fields such as music, math, and chess have had a predilection for a long time to seek out the youngest and most accomplished among them. According to Chia-Jung Tsay, this is because “we want to seek something that’s inherent to us. We associate accomplishment at a young age with something that comes effortlessly.” But does this desire to seek out “natural” talent eventually skew our view of what talent is? [...]

  2. [...] onderzoekers Chia-Jung Tsay en Mahzarin Banaji toonden meer dan 100 professionele musici twee profielen van professionele [...]

  3. [...] research from Harvard University may give us reason to worry Chia-Jung Tsay and Mahzarin Banaji presented more than 100 professionally trained musicians with two profiles of two professional [...]

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