On this episode of the Key Literature in Medical Education podcast, we dare to tread into the nature v. nurture debate. SPOILER ALERT. It’s a false dichotomy. Nonetheless, it is helpful for Clinician Educators to acknowledge that not all learners have the same starting point. As a interesting side note… this is the first paper covered by KeyLIME where we discuss a large “twins” study!
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KeyLIME Session 88 – Article under review:
View/download the abstract here.
Mosing MA, Madison G, Pedersen NL, Kuja-Halkola R, Ullén F. Practice does not make perfect: no causal effect of music practice on music ability. Psychological Science. 2014 Sept; 25(9):1795-803
Reviewer: Jonathan Sherbino
Deliberate practice (i.e. repetition with feedback) is a
key element for learning. Described by Anders Ericsson and popularized by Malcom Gladwell, in the book Outliers, the “ten thousand hours” rule is perhaps an oversimplification of the path to expertise. Is practice, practice, practice the only requisite to becoming a chess grand master, Wimbledon champion or interventional radiologist? This paper suggests that the nature v. nurture debate will never be an either/or proposition. Perhaps its time we re-acknowledge the biological starting point (i.e. innate ability) necessary for deliberate practice to achieve expert-level performance.
“Our aims were … to estimate genetic influences on music practice and its covariation with music ability…”
Type of paper
Research: Retrospective case-control study
Key Points on the Methods
A subanalysis of the Web survey Study of Twin Adults: Genes and Environment (STAGE) cohort.
n = 10,539 individuals
- 2,569 full twin pairs—1,211 monozygotic; 1,358 dizygotic
- 5,401 single twin without cotwin participation
Self-reported data on the amount of instrumental or singing practice was recorded based on 5 year intervals during childhood and total practice during adulthood.
Music ability was measured using the Swedish Musical Discrimination Test, which measures pitch, melody, and rhythm discrimination.
All variables were corrected for sex and age.
There was a moderate correlation between hours of practice and music ability.
Monozygotic and dizygotic twin correlations suggested that there were potential sex differences in melody, pitch, and music practice.
However, when controlling for genetics, non-shared environmental factors (e.g. differences in hours of practice – as much as 22,000 hrs – between twins) did not correlate with music ability.
The authors conclude…“These findings suggest that music practice may not causally influence music ability and that genetic variation among individuals affects both ability and inclination to practice.”
Reading this paper in context, it is clear that learning should not be assumed to be merely a function of deliberate practice. Rather, the innate ability of the learner must be considered.
Spare Keys – other take home points for clinician educators
This is a great example of the dangers of (over)simplification. The complexities of cognitive psychology are too often excessively reduced in an attempt to achieve an elegant, clear or parsimonious description. Meaning should never be sacrificed in the deconstruction of complexity.
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