Practice Alone Does Not Make Perfect

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The old adage "Practice makes perfect" was given a modern spin when researchers and authors such as Malcolm Gladwell popularized the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become an expert in something.

But new research shows that 10,000 hours of practice only accounts for 18 percent of individual differences in sports — that is when comparing two individuals,  only 18 percent of the difference in the skill level is attributable to the amount of time they've dedicated to practicing.

Other factors, such as self-confidence, age at which one starts practice and inherited cognitive abilities, may matter more in explaining why one person who practices 10,000 hours doesn't become a Yo Yo Ma or a Tom Brady.

"We had someone who actually said, 'Think of the children! How can you tell them not to study?'" Brooke Macnamara, assistant professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University, told Here & Now's Robin Young. "We are not saying that at all. Studying is important. Practice is important. It just doesn't account for everything. There are other differences across people. We're not all the same, and not all tasks are the same."


  • Brooke Macnamara, assistant professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University.

This segment aired on September 17, 2014.


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