Friday, August 15, 2014

It's in the genes

In 2000, I took various rather intensive profiling tests to better understand myself.  Being a nuclear engineer, I wanted to understand Sammy a bit more "nuclearly"!

One of the tests was done with Johnson O'Conner Research Foundation.  The outcome for me was that people are not good or bad at things, they are simply born with particular genetic makeup, elevating or demoting the ability to excel at specific activities.

When I read Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers", I found the fallacy in analytics of causation is correlation repeatedly showcased in the book, though an enjoyable read none the less.

Recent research "Practice Does Not Make Perfect: No Causal Effect of Music Practice on Music Ability" by Dr. Miriam Mosing of Karolinska Institute in Sweden, and Dr. Guy Madison of Ume√• University published in Psychological Science provides a bit of demystification of the adage that significant practice always leads to success in a particular activity.  The abstract states:

"The relative importance of nature and nurture for various forms of expertise has been intensely debated. Music proficiency is viewed as a general model for expertise, and associations between deliberate practice and music proficiency have been interpreted as supporting the prevailing idea that long-term deliberate practice inevitably results in increased music ability. Here, we examined the associations (rs = .18-.36) between music practice and music ability (rhythm, melody, and pitch discrimination) in 10,500 Swedish twins. We found that music practice was substantially heritable (40%-70%). Associations between music practice and music ability were predominantly genetic, and, contrary to the causal hypothesis, nonshared environmental influences did not contribute. There was no difference in ability within monozygotic twin pairs differing in their amount of practice, so that when genetic predisposition was controlled for, more practice was no longer associated with better music skills. 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."

The paper can be read at Research Gate.  For those without access to Research Gate can have a look at the Economist, which covered the paper and states:

"That is not to say practice has no value. Playing an instrument and singing are physical skills, and do take a long time to master. But, though the experiment could not measure this directly, it is a fair bet that only those with high musical ability in the first place can ever hope to master these skills—and Dr. Mosing has shown that musical ability has a big genetic component."

Read the complete article here.

This does not only hold true for music, I believe it is true for various human activities that leverage our senses to using our brains for mathematics and physics.

At a Global 100 company, I tried to institute a small amount of testing to help allocate individuals to the work they excelled at naturally. This would alleviate poor performance, create a happier work force, and productivity would see unimaginable gains. Let's just say, we are far away from the day when 100% of our work force is doing what they are good at.  Question is, are there people who do not excel at anything?  And if so, what would one do if such discoveries were made?

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