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Is Genius Born or Can It Be Learned?

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posted on Feb, 19 2009 @ 11:01 AM
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Recently, the endurance and hard work part of the achievement equation has gotten a lot of attention, and the role of raw talent and intelligence has faded a bit. The main reason for this shift in emphasis is the work of Anders Ericsson, a friendly rival of Simonton's who teaches psychology at Florida State University. Gladwell featured Ericsson's work prominently in Outliers. (See the top 10 non-fiction books of 2008.)

Ericsson has become famous for the 10-year rule: the notion that it takes at least 10 years (or 10,000 hours) of dedicated practice for people to master most complex endeavors. Ericsson didn't invent the 10-year rule (it was suggested as early as 1899), but he has conducted many studies confirming it. Gladwell is a believer. "Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good," he writes. "It's the thing you do that makes you good."

Simonton rather dismissively calls this the "drudge theory." He thinks the real story is more complicated: deliberate practice, he says, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for creating genius. For one thing, you need to be smart enough for practice to teach you something. In a 2002 study, Simonton showed that the average IQ of 64 eminent scientists was around 150, fully 50 points higher than the average IQ for the general population. And most of the variation in IQs (about 80%, according to Simonton) is explained by genetics. (See pictures of Bobby Fischer, chess prodigy.)

Personality traits also matter. Simonton writes that geniuses tend to be "open to experience, introverted, hostile, driven, and ambitious." These traits too are inherited — but only partly. They're also shaped by environment.

So what does this mean for people who want to encourage genius? Gladwell concludes his book by saying the 10,000-hour rule shows that kids just need a chance to show how hard they can work; we need "a society that provides opportunities for all," he says. Well, sure. But he dismisses the idea that kids need higher IQs to achieve success, and that's just wishful thinking. As I argued here, we need to do more to recognize and not alienate high-IQ kids. Too often, principals hold them back with age-mates rather than letting them skip grades.

Still, genius can be very hard to discern, and not just among the young. Simonton tells the story of a woman who was able to get fewer than a dozen of her poems published during her brief life. Her hard work availed her little — but the raw power of her imagery and metaphor lives on. Her name? Emily Dickinson.

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What do you think ... can it be learned? or do you have to be born with the genius ... i don't know i've seen plenty of kid genius's and stuff, but then again i'm sure if this 10-year rule actually played out it could be possible to 'make' a genius ... thoughts?




posted on Feb, 19 2009 @ 12:19 PM
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I tend to go with Simonton -- mostly genetic, but can be modified by environment. If you teach kids, you will notice that there's a real difference in who grasps what. Most of them simply learn (sorta) what came out of your mouth. There are a few, though, who listen and then start asking about applications and making modifications on their own.

It's a different way of thinking. They make connections faster than others do.

Could you make a kid practice for 10,000 hours on this kind of thinking? Yes. It might not be fun for you or the kid. Would it make them a better thinker? Maybe not... because one of the qualities is the ability to know enough to know good information from bad information.



posted on Feb, 19 2009 @ 12:59 PM
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Gifted children are born with the ability to think abstractly while others don't develp that trait until close to puberty. Gifted children will inundate you with questions you have no answers to, will understand mathematical principals without having formal instruction, and will in general progress academically at a much more rapid pace than regular ed students. Given enough time and training, you can become very good at almost any task, but will you truly be a genius? I don't think so...I believe genius is a combination of giftedness and training.

You can have the perfect pro-basketball player build, great hand-to-eye coordination and strength, but if you never pick up a basketball, you won't become the next Michael Jordan. And you can be the average guy off the street, who decides to put 10,000 hours into basketball. He will get darn good, but still will not be the next Michael Jordan. It takes the combination of inherited traits and dedication to make a true genius.



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