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Book Shavinina 9781402061615 Proof2 December 2, 2008

01 Chapter 7


Debating Giftedness: Pronat vs. Antinat

Françoys Gagné







14 Abstract This chapter pursues two main goals: (a) whose development is significantly influenced by our
15 demonstrate that natural abilities—and their outstand- genetic endowment and (b) that directly act as causal
16 ing expression as gifts—really exist (the mainstream agents in the growth of competencies (knowledge and
17 Pronat position) and that recent attacks by a few re- skills) characteristic of a particular occupational field.
18 searchers who deny their existence (the Antinat po- As for giftedness, the target concept of the present
19 sition) can be easily parried empirically; (b) expose handbook, it corresponds to the top end of the normal
20 questionable scholarly behavior by some Antinat re- distribution of natural abilities; simply said, gifts are
21 searchers. In the first part, I will examine the concept outstanding natural abilities. In the analysis of compe-
22 of natural ability, pointing out its six defining charac- tency development, natural abilities represent the “po-
23 teristics. I will then demonstrate with extensive empiri- tential” pole on a potential-to-performance continuum.
24 cal evidence that both general intelligence and physical The developmental process draws on this potential to
25 natural abilities meet all six defining criteria of a natu- systematically construct competencies in every occu-
26 ral ability. In the second part, I will illustrate how some pational field, including professions, trades, technol-
27 influent Antinat researchers deliberately exclude rele- ogy, arts, and sports. Consequently, natural abilities
28 vant evidence, accumulate irrelevant evidence, ignore significantly predict, along with other important causal
29 crucial objections, and select from published studies variables, the level of these occupational achievements.
30 only the results that support their position. These cases The above statements summarize a position that would
31 of deliberate (mal) practice show their lack of desire probably rally a majority of scholars in all fields of tal-
32 to examine objectively all the available evidence and ent development (e.g., academics, arts, music, sports).
33 reassess their entrenched beliefs. This mainstream position, which I will label Pronat,
34 leaves room for a small minority of researchers, let us
35 Keywords DMGT · Natural ability · Measurement · call them Antinats, who are not just skeptical about the
36 Intelligence · Heritability · Predictive power · Physical “naturalness” of some abilities, but manifest strong op-
37 abilities · Scientific misconduct · Relative age effect position to that concept (e.g., Charness, 1998; Erics-
38 son, 2003; Lehmann, 1998; Starkes & Helsen, 1998;
39 Tesch-Römer, 1998). That opposition expressed itself
40 most vocally through two direct attempts (Ericsson,
41 Roring, & Nandagopal, 2007; Howe, Davidson, & Slo-
42 boda, 1998) to disprove the existence of natural abil-
43 Most scientists in psychology and education recognize ities (whose giftedness level they usually call innate
44 without hesitation the existence of natural abilities. By talent). In the first systematic effort against the main-
45 natural ability, I mean mental or physical abilities (a) stream position, Howe et al., (1998) concluded their
46 review as follows: “The evidence we have surveyed in
F. Gagné (B) this target article does not support the talent account,
48 Université du Québec à Montréal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada according to which excelling is a consequence of pos-
49 e-mail: gagne.francoys@uqam.ca sessing innate gifts” (p. 407). Thirty researchers pos-

L.V. Shavinina (ed.), International Handbook on Giftedness, 155

DOI 10.1007/978-1-4020-6162-2 7,  c Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009
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156 F. Gagné

01 itively answered an invitation by the Behavioral and This inappropriate scientific behavior will demonstrate
02 Brain Sciences editors to comment on that article. No why there is little hope for an eventual meeting of
03 fewer than 75% (18/24) of those who clearly took po- minds between the two opposing camps.
04 sition on the core issue, namely the existence or not
05 of “innate talents,” strongly rejected the authors’ nega-
06 tive conclusion. I will mention in this chapter some of The Case for Giftedness
07 their counterarguments and methodological critiques.
08 In their response to the commentators, Howe et al.
09 ignored most of the relevant objections expressed by No official Pronat position exists. The one I offer here
10 these 18 critics and reaffirmed their initial position as shares many principles and ideas with other concep-
11 follows: “On the central question of whether innate tal- tions of giftedness, but has distinct idiosyncratic char-
12 ents (as defined in the target article) are real or mythi- acteristics. This first part is subdivided into four sec-
13 cal, we have not encountered in the commentaries any tions. In the first one, I briefly present my Differenti-
14 convincing reasons for changing our position. Innate ated Model of Giftedness and Talent, a talent develop-
15 talents are, we think, a fiction, not a fact” (p. 437). ment theory that uses the terms gifts and talents in very
16 In the more recent attempt, Ericsson et al. (2007) distinct ways. The DMGT offers a general framework
17 assembled a partially different set of counterevidence to analyze the dynamics of talent development over
18 to the Pronat mainstream position. They came to an the life span; it also introduces a clearly defined set of
19 equally strong conclusion: “With the exception of terms to describe unambiguously all major components
20 fixed genetic factors determining body size and height, of the talent development process, as well as the preva-
21 we were unable to find evidence for innate constraints lence of various levels of giftedness and talent. It will
22 to the attainment of elite achievement for healthy serve as my background structure throughout this de-
23 individuals” (p. 3). Twelve professional peers were bate. In the second section, I define the concept of nat-
24 invited to comment on that target article, me included. ural ability through six differential criteria: two essen-
25 Again, a majority of those whose comments addressed tial characteristics and four logically associated corol-
26 the core question of the target article—the existence laries. The third and fourth sections are devoted to the
27 or not of “innate talents”—disagreed with the authors. constructs of general intelligence and physical ability,
28 Apart from these two sets of comments, I am not aware respectively. I first define them, then bring forth rele-
29 of any comprehensive response to these two attacks vant scientific literature to demonstrate how each per-
30 on the twin concepts of natural ability and giftedness. fectly meets all six defining criteria of natural abilities.
31 Consequently, it seemed a perfect occasion to include
32 a formal counterpoint to Antinat positions in the most
33 extensive handbook yet on the subject of giftedness. The Differentiated Model of Giftedness
34 With its 70+ chapters, it dwarfs all past similar and Talent (DMGT)1
35 publications (e.g., Colangelo & Davis, 2003; Heller,
36 Mönks, & Passow, 1993;Heller, Mönks, Sternberg, &
37 Subotnik, 2000). Among current conceptions of giftedness (Sternberg &
38 In the first part, The case for giftedness, I will de- Davidson, 2005), the DMGT stands alone in its clear,
39 fine the concept of natural ability, inserting it within distinct, and well-operationalized definitions of two
40 the larger framework of my Differential Model of Gift- key concepts in the field of gifted education: gifted-
41 edness and Talent (DMGT). I will focus on general nat- ness and talent. I will not describe the DMGT in detail,
42 ural ability since the existence of the whole concept, but survey its components and structure just enough to
43 and not just its giftedness part, has been challenged. I enlighten readers who have never encountered this the-
44 will then look for evidence of its existence in two well- ory; I will also define various terms that will regularly
45 researched ability domains, the intellectual and physi- reappear in other parts of this chapter. Please keep in
46 cal domains. In the second part, The case for Antinat mind that all the terms defined in the following presen-
47 deliberate (mal)practice, I will address a much more
48 delicate subject, namely the recurring scholarly mis- 1 Since the writing of this chapter, the DMGT went through a
49 conduct of some Antinat researchers, as they manifest major update, only recently unveiled. An overview of the revised
themselves in the two target articles mentioned above. DMGT 2.0 is available from the author.
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7 Debating Giftedness 157

























25 Fig. 7.1 Gagné’s differentiated model of giftedness and talent (DMGT.2007)




29 tation will maintain that specific meaning throughout ural abilities or aptitudes (called gifts), in at least one
30 the chapter, except when otherwise stated. Interested ability domain,2 to a degree that places an individual at
31 readers will find detailed presentations of the DMGT least among the top 10% of age peers.
32 in various recent sources (Gagné, 2003, 2004, 2005a,
33 in press; Van Rossum & Gagné, 2005). As shown in 2 When I conceived the DMGT at the turn of the 1980s, I de-
34 Fig. 7.1, the DMGT brings together six components: cided to adopt the term “domain” for categories of natural abil-
35 gifts (G), talents (T), the talent development process ities (gifts) and the term “field” for talent areas; I hoped in that
36 (D), intrapersonal catalysts (I), environmental catalysts way to reduce confusion when discussing these two category sys-
37 (E), and the chance factor (C), They can be grouped tems. Csikszentmihalyi and Robinson (1986) independently pro-
posed another differentiation, which they described as follows:
38 into two distinct trios: (a) the talent development trio
39 (G, T, D) and the “supporting cast” trio (I, E, C). If by “domain” we mean a culturally structured pattern
of opportunities for action, requiring a distinctive set of
sensori-motor and cognitive skills—in short, a symbolic
41 system such as music, mathematics, or athletics—we may
42 The Talent Development Trio designate by “field” the social organization of a domain.
A field includes all the statuses pertinent to the domain;
The first trio includes the three components whose in- it specifies the habitual patterns of behavior—or roles—
expected from persons who occupy the various statuses.
45 teraction summarizes the essence of the DMGT’s con- (pp. 278–279)
46 ception of talent development: the progressive transfor-
My own definition of field does not distinguish these two per-
47 mation of gifts into talents. Here are formal definitions spectives. Because I analyze the phenomenon of talent devel-
48 for the two target concepts. opment from a less macroscopic or societal outlook, and more
49 Giftedness designates the possession and use of un- from a psycho-educational perspective, that distinction has lim-
trained and spontaneously expressed outstanding nat- ited usefulness. But note the large overlap between their defini-
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158 F. Gagné

01 Talent designates the outstanding mastery of sys- Figure 7.1 shows examples of talent fields relevant to
02 tematically developed competencies (knowledge and school-aged youth. A given natural ability can express
03 skills) in at least one field (see Note 1, p. 157) of hu- itself in many different ways, depending on the field(s)
04 man activity to a degree that places an individual at of activity adopted by an individual. For example, man-
05 least among the top 10% of “learning peers” (all those ual dexterity can be modeled into the particular skills of
06 who have accumulated a similar amount of learning a pianist, a painter, or a video-game player. Similarly,
07 time from either current or past training). intelligence can be modeled into the scientific reason-
08 The terminology used in the above definitions re- ing of a chemist, the game analysis of a chess player,
09 veals the breadth of the theory. Although it was created or the strategic planning of an athlete.
10 to explain the transformation of gifts into talents, the Developmental process (D). In this theory, natural
11 DMGT also applies more generally to the transforma- abilities or aptitudes act as the “raw material” or con-
12 tion of average (or low) natural abilities into average stituent elements of talents. The process of talent de-
13 (or low) competencies (knowledge and skills). velopment manifests itself when the child or adoles-
14 Gifts (G). The DMGT distinguishes four natural cent engages in systematic learning and practicing;
15 ability domains (see Fig. 7.1): intellectual (Gi), the higher the level of talent sought, the more inten-
16 creative (Gc), socioaffective (Gs), and physical (Gp). sive this process will be. Developmental processes can
17 These natural abilities, whose development and level take three different forms. (a) Maturation is a process
18 of expression is partially controlled by the individual’s largely controlled by the genetic endowment. It ensures
19 genetic endowment, can be observed in every task the growth and transformation of all biological struc-
20 children are confronted with in the course of their tures and physiological processes (called endopheno-
21 schooling. For instance, think of the intellectual abili- types) that underlie phenotypic abilities. (b) Sponta-
22 ties needed to learn to read, speak a foreign language, neous learning corresponds essentially to knowledge
23 or understand new mathematical concepts; the creative and skills acquired as part of daily activities. Much
24 abilities needed to solve different kinds of problems of what is called “practical intelligence” (Sternberg &
25 and produce original work in science, literature, and Wagner, 1986) results from such unstructured learning
26 art; the physical abilities involved in sports, music, activities. The general knowledge, language skills, so-
27 and sculpture; the social abilities that children use cial skills, or manual skills mastered by young chil-
28 daily in interactions with classmates, teachers, and dren before they enter the school system result almost
29 parents. Gifts can be observed more easily and directly totally from such unstructured activities. (c) System-
30 in young children because environmental influences atic learning is characterized not only by a conscious
31 and systematic learning have exerted their moderating intention to attain specific learning goals but also by
32 influence in a limited way. However, they still show a systematically planned sequence of learning steps
33 themselves in older children and even in adults through to achieve these goals. When that systematic learning
34 the facility and speed with which individuals acquire reaches high levels, Ericsson’s concept of deliberate
35 new competencies (knowledge and skills) in any given practice (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Römer, 1993)
36 field of human activity. Said differently, ease and becomes a central part of the learning process. This
37 speed in learning is the trademark of giftedness. third type is not necessarily formal. In its non-formal
38 Talents (T). As defined in the DMGT, talents pro- type, it corresponds to autodidactic or self-taught learn-
39 gressively emerge from the transformation of these out- ing, done most of the time as a leisure activity. Still,
40 standing natural abilities or gifts into the well-trained the most common learning process remains formal or
41 and systematically developed competencies character- institutionally based and leads to an official diploma
42 istic of a particular field of human activity. On the recognizing competence or talent.
43 potential-performance continuum, talents represent the As a general rule, these three processes contribute in
44 performance pole, thus the outcome of the talent devel- inverse ways to the development of gifts and talents. In
45 opment process. Talent fields can be extremely diverse. the case of gifts, the major developmental agent is mat-
46 uration, closely followed by informal learning; it is the
47 opposite in the case of talents, with formal institutional
tion of domain and my own definition of field. Since most re-
48 learning accounting for most of the developmental ac-
searchers in gifted education commonly use the term “domain”
in their writings, I judged important to write this clarifying note. tivity.
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7 Debating Giftedness 159

01 The prevalence question. Any definition of norma- ences on the process of talent development. Gifted edu-
02 tive concepts must specify how subjects differ from the cation programs within or outside the school belong to
03 norm and what it means in terms of the prevalence of the category of provisions, as do similar types of pro-
04 the population subsumed by the label. In the DMGT, grams in other fields; these more systematic forms of
05 the threshold for both giftedness and talent is placed intervention contribute to foster—or hinder—the talent
06 at the 90th percentile. In other words, those who be- development process. Finally, significant events (the
07 long to the top 10% of the relevant reference group in death of a parent, a prize or award, a major accident
08 terms of natural ability (for giftedness) or achievement or illness) can alter the course of talent development
09 (for talent) may receive the relevant label. This gener- one way or the other.
10 ous choice of threshold is counterbalanced by the use Chance (C). Chance could be added as a fifth causal
11 of five successive levels of giftedness or talent based factor associated with the environment (e.g., the chance
12 on the metric system (Gagné, 1998b). Thus, within the of being born in a particular family; the chance of
13 top 10% of “mildly” gifted or talented persons, the the school in which the child is enrolled developing
14 DMGT identifies the following four progressively more a program for talented students). But, strictly speak-
15 selective subgroups, labeled “moderately” (top 1%), ing, it is not a causal factor. Just like the type of influ-
16 “highly” (top 1:1,000), “exceptionally” (top 1:10,000), ence (positive vs. negative), chance characterizes the
17 and “extremely” (top 1:100,000), respectively. predictability (controllable vs. uncontrollable) of ele-
18 ments belonging to three other components (G, I, or
19 E). Chance’s crucial involvement is well summarized
20 The “Supporting Cast” Trio by Atkinson’s (1978) belief that all human accomplish-
21 ments can be ascribed to “two crucial rolls of the dice
The talent development process is facilitated (or over which no individual exerts any personal control.
hindered) by the action of two types of catalysts: These are the accidents of birth and background. One
intrapersonal and environmental (see Fig. 7.1). The roll of the dice determines an individual’s heredity; the
last component, chance, temporarily associated with other, his formative environment” (p. 221).
the catalysts, will have its precise role revised in the
near future.
Intrapersonal catalysts (I). The intrapersonal cata- The Dynamics of Talent Development
lysts include physical and psychological factors, many
of them under the partial influence of the genetic en- For the model to become a theory, the six components
dowment. Among the psychological catalysts, motiva- need to be dynamically associated, a process still in
tion and volition play a crucial role in initiating the pro- progress. Here are a few glimpses of the theory part of
cess of talent development, guiding it and sustaining the DMGT.
it through obstacles, boredom, and occasional failure. Basic overview. The relationships among the six
Self-management gives structure and efficiency to the components are expressed through a complex pattern
talent development process, as it does to other daily ac- of interactions. The most fundamental is the causal re-
tivities. Hereditary predispositions to behave in certain lationship between natural abilities (gifts) and compe-
ways (temperament) and acquired styles of behavior tencies (talents), illustrated by the large central arrow in
(e.g., traits and disorders) also contribute significantly Fig. 7.1. Because gifts are the constituent elements (or
to support and stimulate, or slow down and even block, raw materials) of talents, it follows that the presence
talent development. of talents implies underlying gifts. But that statement
Environmental catalysts (E). The environment man- needs to be qualified. Of course, I and E catalysts, as
ifests its significant impact in four different ways. The well as the D component, play a significant facilitat-
milieu exerts its influence both at a macroscopic level ing (or hindering) role in the developmental process.
(e.g., geographic, demographic, sociological) and at a As causal agents they take away from gifts part of the
more microscopic level (e.g., size of family, age and predictive power for talent emergence, thus reducing
gender of siblings, socioeconomic status). Many dif- the causal power of gifts to a moderate level. Conse-
ferent persons, not only parents and teachers but also quently, at low levels of talent, we could observe indi-
siblings and peers, may have positive or negative influ- viduals with natural abilities below the gifted level hav-
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160 F. Gagné

01 ing reached talent-level performances through strong gifts and talents; and without that distinction the whole
02 inputs from intrapersonal and/or environmental cata- DMGT edifice literally crumbles. No wonder that the
03 lysts, as well as from the developmental process itself drastic judgments pronounced by Antinat researchers
04 (amount and intensity of learning and practicing). This make me react strongly! And their judgments are usu-
05 moderate relationship between gifts and talents also ally unmitigated, as we saw in the quotes presented in
06 means that gifts can remain undeveloped, as witnessed the introduction of the chapter. When I examined the
07 by the well-known phenomenon of academic under- evidence behind their strong statements, I found much
08 achievement among intellectually gifted children. The room for critique, especially the omission of dozens
09 causal components usually act through the develop- of crucial facts supporting the Pronat position. I will
10 mental process, facilitating or hindering the learning present in the next two sections more than enough evi-
11 activities and thus the performance. But any pair of dence to prove beyond any doubt the existence of nat-
12 components can interact, and in both directions (e.g., ural abilities and gifts. But, I must first discuss the def-
13 G influencing I and vice versa); achievements (T) or inition of the natural ability construct. I must do so be-
14 their absence can even have a feedback effect on the cause some Antinat researchers have advanced defini-
15 other components. tions that I find unsatisfactory. This exercise will begin
16 What makes a difference? Are some components with a brief survey of some existing definitions; I will
17 generally recognized as exercising more powerful in- then identify six defining criteria of natural abilities,
18 fluences on talent emergence? It is possible to find pointing out in the process some submitted character-
19 in the scientific literature strong defenders for each istics that I do not consider essential or even relevant.
20 of the DMGT’s components. It is clear, for instance, I will complete this definition with precisions on their
21 that strong environmentalists (e.g., Bloom, 1985a) will measurement.
22 choose the E catalysts; for his part, Ericsson (Eric-
23 sson et al., 1993) has been insisting for almost two
24 decades that his “deliberate practice” construct (a part Survey of Differentiating Criteria
25 of D) is the crucial element in talent development. My
26 own review of the existing literature has brought me to The distinction between the aptitude–potential pair and
27 propose the following hierarchy among the four com- the performance–achievement duo is probably one of
28 ponents: G, I, D, E (see Gagné, 2003, 2004, 2005a, the most ubiquitous distinctions in the field, not only
29 for a detailed discussion of that ranking). Because of in the gifted education literature, mostly interested by
30 its pervasive role through most components, I have the IGAT3 population, but also in the larger talent de-
31 put aside the chance factor. Still, that pervasive role velopment literature, which includes all other fields,
32 achieved through non-controllable genetic and envi- especially arts and sports. Some years ago, I summa-
33 ronmental influences would give it a top ranking. Cre- rized my convictions about the nature of abilities, gifts,
34 ating a hierarchy should not make us forget that (a) and talents in the form of 22 statements as logically se-
35 all components play a crucial role in the talent devel- quenced as I could (Gagné, 1999b). They were grouped
36 opments process, and (b) that each individual story of into three sections: (a) the nature of human abilities, (b)
37 talent emergence reveals a unique mixture of the four individual differences and their origins, (c) the specific
38 causal components (see Gagné, 2000, for an illustra- case of gifts and talents. Six commentators reacted to
39 tion). In a nutshell, the emergence of talents results that target article. One of them (Borland, 1999) did not
40 from a complex choreography between the four causal mince his words: “Perhaps more important, I believe
41 components, a choreography unique to each individual the natural-systematically developed dichotomy lacks
42 situation. utility” (p. 140). In my response to the commentators,
43 I answered, “Its usefulness resides in my association of


46 About Natural Abilities and Giftedness 3 I created the IGAT acronym (Intellectually Gifted and Aca-

47 demically Talented) to convey the idea that school districts se-

lect the vast majority of their gifted program participants with a
As shown in the preceding section, the concept of nat- combination of general intelligence and academic achievement
ural ability anchors the DMGT’s distinction between measures.
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7 Debating Giftedness 161

01 NAT and SYSDEV abilities with potential and achieve- “innate talent” most of the time to designate the tar-
02 ment respectively. . ..It permeates every text ever writ- get concept of their article (the DMGT’s giftedness),
03 ten in gifted education and is also present, explicitly or but choose the expression “talent account” (without
04 implicitly, in most definitions of giftedness, talent, or “innate”) to describe the theoretical position defended
05 both” (Gagné, 1999a, p. 204). I then quoted many ex- by Pronat scholars. In the second item, the meaning
06 amples of that distinction from the writings of major of the term talent is again ambiguous since it can re-
07 scholars in the field. fer to both gifts and early manifestations of talent. In-
08 Although the exact definition of aptitude has been deed, the DMGT’s definition of talent recognizes that
09 the subject of some controversy (e.g., Anastasi, 1980; they may appear very precociously, in fact as soon as
10 Lubinski & Dawis, 1992; Snow, 1992; Snow & individual differences in the growth of competencies
11 Lohman, 1984), most scholars have readily adopted make it possible to pinpoint the top 10% achievers. At
12 the aptitude–achievement dichotomy. I will present the same time, the fast pace of learning that produced
13 here two definitions that I find relevant to the present these precocious high achievements serves as an indi-
14 discussion. rect measure of giftedness. Again, in the third property,
15 Angoff’s characteristics. Angoff (1988) was one of the expression “early indications of talent” can target
16 the most articulate in his support for a distinction be- both measures of giftedness or talent.
17 tween aptitude and achievement. He proposed the fol- With regard to their content, the first property re-
18 lowing differentiating characteristics: (a) slow growth quires only that we replace innate with hereditary (see
19 (for aptitudes) vs. rapid growth (for achievement); (b) DC-1 below). Except for its ambiguous terminology,
20 informal learning vs. formal; (c) resistance to stimula- the second property poses few problems so long as
21 tion vs. susceptibility to it; (d) major genetic substra- the “advance indications” can take other forms than di-
22 tum vs. major practice component; (e) more general rect measures of the natural ability itself, for instance
23 content vs. more circumscribed; (f) “old formal” learn- clear indications of a faster learning pace. The third and
24 ing vs. recent acquisitions; (g) more generalizable vs. fourth ones pose no problem although the fourth ap-
25 narrower transfer; (h) prospective use (predicting fu- pears tautological; are not gifts and talents normative
26 ture learning) vs. retrospective use (assessing amount concepts by definition? Finally, the only unacceptable
27 learned); (i) usable for general population evaluation property is the last one. That rejection will be discussed
28 vs. limited to systematically exposed individuals. It is below (see DC-4).
29 worth noting that all these characteristics apply per-
30 fectly to the DMGT’s differentiation between gifts and
31 talents. Two Basic Defining Criteria
32 Howe et al.’s proposed properties. In their target ar-
33 ticle questioning the existence of gifts (innate talent), What distinguishes natural abilities from systemati-
34 Howe et al. (1998) proposed five properties that should cally developed competencies? Angoff (1988) did not
35 be observed for a particular characteristic to be called specify which of his differentiating characteristics con-
36 a “talent”: stituted core elements compared to more peripheral
(1) It originates in genetically transmitted structures and ones. For their part, Howe et al. (1998) considered each
hence is at least partly innate. (2) Its full effects may of their five properties to be essential. My own answer
39 not be evident at an early stage, but there will be some will borrow from both sources. After specifying a pre-
40 advance indications, allowing trained people to identify liminary condition, namely that only “real” abilities be
the presence of talent before exceptional levels of mature
performance have been demonstrated. (3) These early in- labeled gifts or talents, I will propose six defining cri-
dications of talent provide a basis for predicting who is teria between natural abilities and competencies. The
43 likely to excel. (4) Only a minority are talented, for if all first two are the basic ones, from which the next four
44 children were, there would be no way to predict or ex- ensue, just like corollaries in a logical argument. In a
plain differential success. Finally, (5) talents are relatively
domain-specific (pp. 399–400). nutshell, natural abilities (1) have direct genetic roots
and (2) act as constituent elements of competencies.
The above quote exemplifies the interpretative ambigu- Because of these two basic characteristics, they (3) de-
ities created by the lack of a clear distinction between velop informally, (4) are field-independent, (5) have
giftedness and talent. The authors use the expression predictive power with regard to competencies, and (6)
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162 F. Gagné

01 impose constraints on competency levels. Let us exam- the label Moon (2003) chose to describe her recently
02 ine each of them in more detail. proposed “personal talent,” a construct that globally
03 What are “real” abilities? This preliminary condi- overlaps the DMGT’s motivation–volition pair within
04 tion may appear self-evident, even tautological. Yet, I the intrapersonal catalysts.
05 find it very important in view of the current tendency DC-1. Natural abilities have direct genetic roots.
06 to extend the “giftedness” label to many human char- The genetic origin of natural abilities constitutes the
07 acteristics that do not belong to the realm of abili- most basic of all six defining criteria. Indeed, the
08 ties (see, in this handbook, Bar-On’s chapter on emo- adjective “natural” directly refers to the underlying
09 tional giftedness and Gottfried and Gottried’s chapter genetic substrate of these abilities. Many researchers
10 on gifted motivation). What are abilities? The term in the field of behavioral genetics have assessed the
11 refers to the mental or physical power to do some- heritability of natural abilities, especially those in the
12 thing; it is directly related to action, including the intellectual and physical domains (Bouchard, Malina,
13 potential for action. By contrast, non-ability charac- & Pérusse, 1997; Plomin, DeFries, McClearn, &
14 teristics belong to the vast area of personality con- McGuffin, 2001). The significant heritability of natural
15 structs; they correspond to behavioral “styles” (Mc- abilities does not make them “innate” as claimed
16 Crae et al., 2000). Consequently, expressions like “gift by some (Howe et al., 1998; Ericsson et al., 2007).
17 of optimism,” “gift of will power,” or religious/spiritual The term “innate” “implies hard-wired, fixed action
18 giftedness (Piechowski, 2003) create undesirable am- patterns of a species that are impervious to experience.
19 biguity. Genetic influence on abilities and other complex traits
20 I will readily acknowledge that some characteris- does not denote the hard-wired deterministic effect of
21 tics within the intrapersonal (I) catalyst component a single gene but rather probabilistic propensities of
22 behave like abilities and that the border separating many genes in multiple-gene systems” (Plomin, 1998,
23 abilities, especially social abilities, from some I p. 421). Consequently, it conveys two false images
24 components remains imperfectly defined. Indeed, about natural abilities (a) that the observed individual
25 some DMGT catalysts are frequently described as differences are immutable and (b) that they appear
26 abilities, like self-control abilities or motivation suddenly (see DC-3 below). Few scientists use the
27 skills (Accel-team, 2007; Brown, 1976).4 Moreover, term “innate” to describe any type of human natural
28 research has revealed the genetic roots of many of abilities or temperamental predisposition.
29 them, especially those associated with the Big Five Finally, the adjective “direct” in the expression “di-
30 personality constructs (Rowe, 1997). These genetic rect genetic roots” completes the differentiation be-
31 roots may tempt researchers and other professionals tween natural abilities and competencies. For example,
32 to use the label “giftedness” to convey the “given” research has shown that academic achievement mea-
33 part of these characteristics. I am worried that this sures have genetic roots (Plomin et al., 2001); but the
34 broadening of the giftedness construct will dilute its genetic component in academic achievement almost
35 meaning, exactly like it has begun to happen with completely overlaps the hereditary component of IQ
36 the intelligence construct (e.g., Gardner’s (1983) scores. In other words, the genetic roots of academic
37 multiple intelligences; Goleman’s (1995) emotional competence are indirect; they have their origin in the
38 intelligence; Sternberg’s (2005) theory of successful strong relationship between intelligence and academic
39 intelligence). Unfortunately, I have not found an achievement (Plomin & Price, 2003).
40 appropriate term to substitute for giftedness, although DC-2. Natural abilities are the constituent elements
41 it is easy to replace natural ability with propensity or of competencies. This second basic criterion logically
42 predisposition; we could add an adjective, like “high” emerges from a common sense examination of any
43 or “strong.” Finally, this preliminary criterion applies learning activity. The competencies—and talents—that
44 of course to systematically developed abilities, like progressively develop are not appearing out of thin air;
45 competencies and talents. This brings me to reject sometimes, they barely differ from their natural ori-
46 gins. Think of sprinting or weightlifting for example.
4 Just “Google” the various expressions in this paragraph and
Yet even these athletic skills usually require months
48 and years of practice to be honed to Olympic stan-
you will obtain dozens of sites related to motivation skills, reli-
gious giftedness, and so forth. dards. The same parallelism applies to cognitive nat-
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7 Debating Giftedness 163

01 ural abilities when children begin learning academic By stating that natural abilities develop, albeit dif-
02 subjects. Finally, structural analyses of occupations re- ferently from competencies, I affirm that they do not
03 veal that a particular natural ability can serve as a build- appear suddenly. No doubt that individual developmen-
04 ing block for many occupations. For instance, speed is tal paces differ considerably, with some children show-
05 important not only in running but also in long jump ing much slower growth than average, and others much
06 and pole vaulting, in some positions in football, in faster growth. But even the fastest developing children
07 bobsleigh (especially the last “pushing” member on do progress only imperceptibly on a daily or weekly
08 teams of two or four), and so forth. Similarly, cogni- basis. This statement directly contradicts repetitive al-
09 tive abilities contribute to the growth of professional legations by Ericsson et al. (2007) that Pronat scholars
10 skills (e.g., lawyer, doctor, chemist), technical skills believe in sudden appearance of “innate talent.” Here
11 (e.g., computer analyst, supervisor in manufacturing, are some examples. “Empirical investigations of su-
12 electrician), or expertise in arts (music, drama, visual perior performance that adhere to the criteria outlined
13 arts). Creative abilities play a significant role in scien- above demonstrate that exceptional performance does
14 tific research, fiction writing, and choreography (dance, not appear suddenly or without prior training, but grad-
15 skating, gymnastics). In brief, even a casual look at any ually” (p. 20). “Exceptional achievements attributed to
16 learning situation confirms the direct causal relation- innate ‘gifts’ are typically thought to arise abruptly and
17 ship between natural abilities and systematically devel- naturally” (p. 14). “We are unable to find empirical
18 oped competencies. support for the sudden emergence of high levels of per-
19 formance” (p. 31). “We hope that the proponents of in-
20 nate talent are challenged to identify any existing ev-
21 idence on suddenly appearing reproducible abilities”
22 Four Crucial Corollaries (p. 45). I will not swear that no one in gifted educa-
23 tion has ever spoken of sudden apparition; suddenness
As explained above, the last four defining criteria log- could have been used more or less metaphorically, or
ically ensue from the hereditary and building block to suggest that the ability had remained unobserved un-
characteristics of natural abilities. But, and this is im- til well developed. But I am convinced that not a sin-
portant, their logical status as corollaries in no way re- gle scholar in the large field of gifted education holds
duces their differentiating significance compared with such a belief. Giftedness has nothing to do with sud-
the first two. denness, but with accelerated pace of learning, some-
DC-3. Natural abilities develop informally. In my times a quite exceptional acceleration, as shown by the
description of the DMGT’s first trio of components I prodigies that Antinat researchers keep excluding from
mentioned three developmental processes, with their the debate.
inverse contribution to the respective development of DC-4. Natural abilities are field independent. Howe
gifts (mostly maturation and informal learning) and et al.’s (1998) fifth property states that “innate tal-
talents (mostly formal learning and practicing). This ents” are “domain” specific, which means field spe-
primary role of maturation, a process with strong ge- cific in DMGT terminology. To ensure terminological
netic roots, and daily life learning explain both the coherence within this chapter I will use field specific
partly uncontrollable and spontaneous development of from now on. Two commentators (Detterman, Gabriel,
natural abilities. Piaget’s developmental theory con- & Ruthsatz, 1998; Starkes & Helsen, 1998) disagreed
stitutes an excellent example of this type of develop- with the introduction of that necessary property. Det-
ment with regard to cognitive abilities. Natural abilities terman et al. noted the diversified predictive power of
tend to develop more slowly on average than systemat- intelligence, while Starkes & Helsen invoked innate
ically developed competencies; maturational processes talents’ genetic roots. These two critiques can be re-
progress at their slow internal pace, but with large in- stated as follows. First, the significant genetic roots
dividual differences, and attempts to accelerate infor- of natural abilities preclude their association with spe-
mal learning activities are not common (Angoff, 1988). cific occupational fields. Suggesting that a whole set of
Moreover, the hereditary component makes them much genes—since ability differences do not depend on sin-
more resistant to change, one way or the other, than gle genes (Plomin & Price, 2003)—associated with a
systematically developed competencies. specific field of talent could have evolved within a few
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164 F. Gagné

01 centuries directly contradicts evolution’s time frame of reduces the chances of high achievements, thus creat-
02 tens of millennia. Second, their causal role as build- ing a practical ceiling to attainable performances, how-
03 ing blocks of talents argues for the opposite, domain ever intensive the amount of practice. No doubt that
04 specificity, with openness to any occupational field— high motivation and strong willpower can allow some
05 or sub-field—that might require any of them for the individuals with non-gifted abilities to reach talent-
06 development of specific competencies. level performances (top 10% in the DMGT). But, be-
07 The same logic requires that we avoid using field low average natural abilities will most probably pre-
08 descriptors to label natural abilities (e.g., musical vent any individual, however large the input from the
09 giftedness, athletic giftedness, entrepreneurial gifted- other components (I, D, or E), from reaching talent-
10 ness, academic giftedness), unless it is clear that the level performances, even less so performances at mod-
11 expression refers to field-independent, but domain- erate (top 1/100) or high (top 1/1000) levels of talent.
12 related natural abilities. For instance, depending on the In the next two sections, I will present evidence on the
13 particular sport discussed, “athletic” giftedness should major constraints imposed by intellectual and physical
14 refer to a specific combination of natural physical natural abilities on the level of achievement.
15 abilities, such as speed, strength, endurance, flexibility, This corollary is particularly important in view of
16 coordination. Similarly, “academic” giftedness should Ericsson et al.’s (2007) main conclusion: “With the ex-
17 clearly refer to intellectual giftedness until proof is ception of fixed genetic factors determining body size
18 shown that other domains of giftedness contribute and height, we were unable to find evidence for in-
19 significantly to academic talent. nate constraints to the attainment of elite achievement
20 DC-5. Natural abilities predict future performance. for healthy individuals” (p. 3). In other words, what-
21 Without some predictive power for future compe- ever the level of a person’s natural abilities—assuming,
22 tence development, natural abilities would present of course, they exist—they would pose no obstacle to
23 little interest. Indeed, the parallelism between the reaching the highest levels of performance in any field.
24 giftedness–talent pair and the potential–achievement Any healthy individual would only need to invest a
25 continuum implies that some relevant high potential sufficient amount of time and deliberate practice, and
26 (giftedness) leads to a specific form of outstanding the motivation to sustain that practice; observed dif-
27 achievement (talent). Note the direct filiation between ferences in achievement would depend essentially on
28 this corollary and the basic building block role of amount of deliberate practice and motivation level. As
29 natural abilities. If they act as the raw material for Ericsson (1998) states, “The real key to understand-
30 competencies, then individual differences in natural ing expert and exceptional performance is in the mo-
31 ability must logically generate parallel individual tivational factors that lead a small number of individ-
32 differences in achieved competencies, at least to some uals to maintain the effortful pursuit of their best per-
33 extent. formance during their productive career—when most
34 DC-6. Natural abilities constrain attainable compe- other individuals have already settled for a merely ac-
35 tence levels. The last corollary directly follows from ceptable level” (p. 414). I intend to show that this al-
36 the predictive power of natural abilities. It stands to legedly more parsimonious view of expertise emer-
37 reason that a causal relationship between two variables gence misses many significant variables and that the
38 means that higher—or lower—levels in one are asso- DMGT offers a much more complete framework to an-
39 ciated with higher—or lower—levels in the other. That alyze talent development.
40 is what correlations mean. Consequently, with at least
41 a moderate correlation between a given natural abil-
42 ity and a competency, we should expect high natural Measurement Issues
43 abilities (gifts) to increase the probability of high com-
44 petencies (talents), and vice versa. The quantitative na- Before closing this section, it seemed appropriate
45 ture of any correlation demands an equally quantitative to include some general information on the dif-
46 definition of constraints; they are not an either/or con- ferentiated measurement of natural abilities and
47 dition, but a subject of varying probability. Within this competencies. Let us point out first that there is no
48 quantitative perspective, lower natural abilities signify airtight qualitative difference between natural abilities
49 a growing weight on the learning process, a weight that and systematically developed knowledge and skills
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7 Debating Giftedness 165

01 (Lubinski & Dawis, 1992); both are abilities, and their low those of IQ tests, especially in terms of conver-
02 differentiation rests on the type and intensity of the gent validity (Plucker & Renzulli, 1999). Because of its
03 processes responsible for their respective development more recent exploration, the social domain lags behind
04 (Angoff, 1988). In other words, although well-trained in terms of psychometrically sound measures; avail-
05 professionals can categorize most ability measures as able instruments predominantly revolve around self-
06 representing either natural abilities or competencies, assessments or peer judgments (e.g., leadership rating
07 there are a few instances of overlap. For example, the scales, judges’ scores in public speaking competitions).
08 regular school curriculum includes the development The earlier the assessment is made, the “purer” the
09 of an extensive vocabulary, and some academic exams measure of the natural ability will be, since systematic
10 assess its mastery. At the same time, it is one of the skills development rarely begins before school age, and
11 most central measures in individually administered usually later for most fields of human activity. Within
12 IQ tests; the Vocabulary subtest of the Weschler the DMGT framework, the intrapersonal and environ-
13 Intelligence Scale for Children (revised form) shows mental catalysts contribute to the spontaneous develop-
14 the highest correlation (.74) of all subtests with the ment of natural abilities. It makes sense that young per-
15 global IQ score (Sattler, 1988). In this way, vocabulary sons who discover their high natural ability in a given
16 knowledge becomes a central measure of general in- domain or sub-domain will be motivated by their initial
17 telligence, a prototypical natural ability as we will see progress and will tend to increase their informal prac-
18 below. Similarly, the College Board’s (see “college- tice of that ability. Consequently, it should be clear that
19 board.com”) SAT Reasoning Test (or SAT-I) officially natural ability measures do not just assess the genetic
20 measures academic achievement; all college-bound component of that ability; they include the normal in-
21 high school seniors must complete it (or its competitor fluence of personal and environmental inputs. That is
22 the ACT). Yet its contents focus more on reasoning why they are called “natural” and not “innate.”
23 and analysis than on memorized factual knowledge;
24 this is why it has become an instrument of choice in Summary
25 the assessment of exceptional precocity through the
26 nationwide network of Talent Searches (see Brody’s This section aimed at identifying the essential charac-
27 chapter in this handbook). But, apart from a few cases teristics of a natural ability and, by extension, its out-
28 like these, it is usually easy to measure either natural standing manifestation as giftedness. Borrowing partly
29 abilities or developed skills. from two proposals, I identified six constituent charac-
30 Within the DMGT framework, the rule is simple: teristics that “real” abilities must possess to qualify as
31 if the measure of individual differences is field re- natural. The first two define their essential nature. (1)
32 lated, then one is measuring learned competencies and Natural abilities have strong roots in a person’s genetic
33 not natural abilities. With competencies, any perfor- endowment; (2) they serve as a reservoir of building
34 mance measure will do: school homework or exams, blocks for systematically developed competencies—
35 standardized achievement tests; music, dance, or vi- and talents. The last four have a corollary status, but
36 sual arts competitions; professional examinations like keep a differentiating role as powerful as the first two.
37 the Graduate Record Examination (see “ets.org”), car (3) Natural abilities develop informally and slowly,
38 driving exams, and so forth. Of course, sport leads in mostly through maturation and daily use, and are thus
39 the comprehensiveness of its performance measures: more resistant to change than competencies; (4) they
40 speeds or heights reached, distances covered, times at- are field independent, allowing them to contribute to a
41 tained, baskets fielded, passes caught, and hundreds of diversity of field-related competencies; (5) their causal
42 others. In the case of natural abilities, measures exist role as building blocks gives them a significant pre-
43 for all four domains, but with unequal levels of psy- dictive power with regard to systematically developed
44 chometric soundness. The intellectual and physical do- achievements. Finally, (6) the causal relationship be-
45 mains stand out with the quality of their assessment tween natural abilities and achievements generates sig-
46 tools, IQ tests in the first case and physical fitness bat- nificant upper limits for achievements; these limits ap-
47 teries in the second. I will describe them briefly in pear and increase as the natural ability level decreases.
48 the next two sections. The creative domain also has Now that I have set the scene by defining the key
49 tests, but their psychometric qualities remain well be- construct, it is time to examine what empirical evi-
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166 F. Gagné

01 dence exists to support the Pronat theoretical position talk about giftedness, especially in sports (Tranckle
02 that some abilities possess all the necessary character- & Cushion, 2006; Van Rossum & Gagné, 2005).
03 istics to be labeled “natural.” I will limit that demon- This prototypical role of intellectual giftedness gives
04 stration to two domains, the intellectual and the phys- special importance to the demonstration made in the
05 ical, simply because there is in both a large and di- present section.
06 versified amount of relevant scientific literature. If my As we enter the intellectual domain, the first step
07 demonstration succeeds, there will be no reason to consists, of course, in defining clearly the core concept.
08 doubt that similar empirical data will eventually be- Such a definition is important in view of the positions
09 come available to confirm the “naturalness” of creative maintained by Antinats on that subject, either consid-
10 and social abilities. ering general intelligence irrelevant in the discussion
11 of “innate talents” (Howe et al., 1998) or questioning
12 its existence (Ericsson et al., 2007) (see section “Coun-
Evidence from the Intellectual Domain terarguments”). Is it really a disputed concept? Not at
14 all. As we will soon see, most specialists in the broad
15 Among the four natural ability domains identified in field of cognitive studies generally agree on its nature.
16 the DMGT, the intellectual domain is by far the richest That consensus was reaffirmed just a decade ago, soon
17 in amount and quality of research, not only on the na- after the publication of Herrnstein & Murray’s (1994)
18 ture of intelligence but also on its genetic origins, and highly controversial The Bell Curve. Carroll (1997) re-
19 its predictive power for a large variety of significant lates that this book “spawned a veritable cottage in-
20 personal and social outcomes (Gottfredson, 1997b). dustry in which almost numberless reviews, critiques,
21 According to Plomin (1998), there is more research editorials, and the like were written—but only rarely
22 on the intellectual domain alone than on all the others by informed specialists—to express (mainly) negative
23 combined. views about Herrnstein and Murray’s data, analyses,
24 and conclusions. . .even to the extent of questioning the
25 very concept of intelligence, the instruments used in
26 Defining General Intelligence measuring it, and the methodology of psychometrics”
27 (pp. 25–26).
Intellectual giftedness represents the prototypical ex- In reaction to these criticisms, a group of 52 spe-
pression of a natural ability. It should surprise no one cialists5 in the field of intelligence and cognition, un-
that the term gifted is spontaneously associated with der the leadership of Linda Gottfredson, decided to
intellectual giftedness: the field of gifted education is publish a statement on the empirical knowledge ac-
essentially built around professionals and scientists cumulated about intelligence and IQ tests (see Got-
working with the K-12 population. For them, the term tfredson, 1997a, for a narrative description of that ini-
giftedness spontaneously brings up the image of bright tiative). Their position paper, called Mainstream Sci-
kids. And the strong predictive power of intelligence ence on Intelligence (MSOI), took the form of a se-
measures with regard to academic achievement rein- ries of 25 short statements on the nature and measure-
forces that relationship. This spontaneous association ment of intelligence, on the validity of IQ scores, as
can be readily observed in many chapters of the
present handbook (e.g., Gross’s chapter on highly 5 Gottfredson invited 131 specialists to sign the declaration.
gifted; Olenchak’s chapter on underachievement; They represented a diversity of disciplines: anthropology, behav-
Peichowski’s chapter on gifted individuals’ emotional ioral genetics, mental retardation, neuropsychology, sociology,
sphere; Sayler’s chapter on gifted and thriving; Sil- psychometrics, child development, educational psychology, and
personnel selection. At the deadline, 100 had responded. Among
verman’s chapter on feminine perspective; and no the 48 who refused to sign, 11 declared themselves insufficiently
doubt many others). Even more, most professionals informed, 10 gave no reason, 11 expressed their disagreement
and scholars in other fields have acknowledged that with one or more of the 25 statements, and 6 agreed with the
association by abstaining to use the term gifted. content but not with the publication means. Finally, 10 said that
they endorsed the declaration, but could not do so publicly for
Instead, they use “talent” to describe both outstanding political reasons (Gottfredson, 1997a). This breakdown shows
natural abilities and exceptional achievements. A few that many who refused did not do so because of their disagree-
will make a distinction by using “natural talent” to ment with the contents of the declaration.
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7 Debating Giftedness 167

01 well as the origin and stability of individual and group also tend to differ substantially in intelligence (by an
02 differences (Gottfredson, 1997a). The document ap- average of about 12 IQ points) for both genetic and envi-
ronmental reasons. St. 16: That IQ may be heritable does
03 peared in the December 13, 1994, issue of the Wall
not mean that it is not affected by the environment; indi-
04 Street Journal. The first three statements, reproduced viduals are not born with fixed, unchangeable levels of
05 below, precisely circumscribe the concept of general intelligence (no one claims they are). St. 17: Although the
06 intelligence. environment is important in creating IQ differences, we
do not know yet how to manipulate it to raise low IQs per-
1. Intelligence is a very general mental capability that, manently. St. 18: Genetically caused differences are not
08 among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, necessarily irremediable, nor are environmentally caused
09 solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ones necessarily remediable. Both may be preventable
ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience. It is not to some extent (Adapted from Gottfredson, 1997a,
merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test- pp. 14–15).
taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper ca-
12 pability for comprehending our surroundings—“catching There is no point in repeating here what a large num-
13 on,” “making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what
ber of literature reviews have already said on the ge-
to do.
2. Intelligence, so defined, can be measured, and in- netic origins of individual differences in intelligence
telligence tests measure it well. They are among the most (e.g., Plomin et al., 2001; Plomin & Price, 2003); they
16 accurate (in technical terms, reliable and valid) of all psy- would simply confirm with more details the contents of
17 chological tests and assessments. They do not measure
the above five statements. By presenting this summary
creativity, character, personality, or other important dif-
ferences among individuals, nor are they intended to. of the 52 scholars’ agreement on the nature–nurture
3. While there are different types of intelligence tests, question I only intended to maintain the continuity be-
20 they all measure the same intelligence. Some use words tween their clear definition of intelligence and their
21 or numbers and require specific cultural knowledge (like
statements concerning the hereditary origins of intel-
vocabulary). Others do not, and instead use shapes or de-
signs and require knowledge of only simple, universal ligence thus defined.
concepts (many/few, open/closed, up/down). (Gottfred-
24 son, 1997a, p. 13)

The definition presented in that public declaration co- The Predictive Power of Intelligence
incides with many others. For instance, Carroll (1997)
states, “IQ represents the degree to which, and the rate The MSOI declaration devotes five statements (9–13)
at which, people are able to learn, and retain in long- to the specific question of the practical significance of
term memory, the knowledge and skills that can be the intelligence construct as a predictor in daily life sit-
learned from the environment (that is, what is taught uations. Again, it is worth summarizing their consen-
in the home and in school, as well as things learned sual statements:
from everyday experience)” (p. 44). In brief, contrary
St. 9: IQ is strongly related, probably more so than any
to the Ericsson et al.’s position mentioned above, most single measurable human trait, to many important edu-
specialists in the field fully agree on the core nature of cational, occupational, economic, and social outcomes.
general intelligence. Whatever IQ tests measure, it is of great practical and
social importance. St. 10: A high IQ is an advantage in
life because virtually all activities require some reason-
38 ing, and decision-making. Conversely, a low IQ is often
39 The Genetics of Intelligence a disadvantage, especially in disorganized environments.
There are many exceptions, but the odds for success in our
society greatly favor individuals with higher IQs. St. 11:
41 The MSOI declaration reserved five statements (state- The practical advantages of having a higher IQ increase
42 ments 14–18) to an analysis of the source and stability as life settings become more complex (novel, ambiguous,
43 of within-group differences. Here is a summary of their changing, unpredictable, or multifaceted). St. 12: Differ-
consensual position: ences in intelligence certainly are not the only factor af-
fecting performance in education, training, and highly
St. 14: Individuals differ in intelligence due to differences complex jobs (no one claims they are), but intelligence
46 in both their environments and genetic heritage; heri- is often the most important. St. 13: Certain personality
47 tability estimates range from 0.4 to 0.8 (on a scale from 0 traits, special talents, aptitudes, physical capabilities, ex-
to 1), most thereby indicating that genetics plays a bigger perience, and the like are important (sometimes essential)
role than does environment in creating IQ differences for successful performance in many jobs, but they have
among individuals. St. 15: Members of the same family narrower (or unknown) applicability or “transferability”
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168 F. Gagné

01 across tasks and settings compared with general intelli- ment measures. Reviews of such studies (Herrnstein
02 gence (Adapted from Gottfredson, 1997a, p. 14). & Murray, 1994; Jensen, 1998; Sattler, 1988), as
03 well as one major meta-analysis (Walberg, 1984),
This set of five statements affirms not only the sub- have confirmed uncorrected correlations of around
stantial predictive significance of general intelligence .60 and .50 at the elementary and high school levels
but also its priority status among predictors of various respectively. These high correlations speak for them-
life outcomes. Strangely, Ericsson et al. (2007) affirm, selves: they reveal that brighter students achieve much
“More importantly for our review is that we have found better, thus have better chances to complete a high
no studies that have demonstrated that IQ is predic- school diploma and access undergraduate and graduate
tive of achievement in domains where reliable, supe- programs.
rior performance has been collected meeting our ear- Here are a few specific statistics. Herrnstein & Mur-
lier criteria” (p. 38). Because of that quote I decided ray (1994) used the National Longitudinal Survey of
to devote some pages to a detailed survey of the rel- Youth database to assess the probability of obtaining a
evant evidence. I will cover a variety of sources: aca- high school degree. They showed that 55% of students
demic, occupational, and general life outcomes. Two with the lowest IQs (bottom 5%) never completed a
additional themes, one dealing with constraints and the high school diploma, that 35% of those in the next
other with the primacy of IQ as a predictor, will com- 20% of IQ scores (between 76 and 90) did the same,
plete this section. but that fewer than 1% did not complete a high school
Predicting academic achievement. During a major degree among the top 25% in general intelligence
part of the past century, hundreds of researchers have (IQs of 110 and up). They used that same database
examined the relationship between IQ and academic to estimate the probability of obtaining a bachelor’s
achievement; their samples cover all grades from degree. They observed that more than 20% of students
kindergarten to postgraduate education. In most of with IQs in the second decile (between the 10th and
these studies, the criterion instrument took the form 20th centile) entered a 2-year or 4-year college during
of end-of-year exams or standardized achievement the 1980s. But they pointed out that “fewer than 2
tests. Ericsson et al. (2007) identify three essential percent of them [fewer than 10% of admitted students]
rules to ensure the scientific quality of performance actually completed a bachelor’s degree. Meanwhile,
criteria: about 70 percent of the students in the top decile
First, the phenomena must be observable and correspond of ability were completing a B.A.” (p. 36). The text
30 to measurable performance. Second, the associated per- specifies neither the type of B.A. degree achieved by
31 formance must be generated under controlled and stan- that 2% of low-IQ individuals nor the level of their
dardized conditions in the sense that it is possible to elicit
32 SAT scores. These probabilities confirm that lower
it repeatedly by presenting representative tasks. Finally,
performance on the representative tasks must be repro- intelligence does create major quantitative constraints
34 ducibly superior to motivated control groups with differ- in students’ efforts to reach high levels of education;
35 ent amounts of experience with the task domain [DMGT’s and this last set of data targets a rather common
field]. The last two criteria are of utmost importance
36 diploma reached by about 35% of the U.S. popula-
(p. 14).
37 tion (Herrnstein & Murray, 1994). The probabilities
Academic achievement measures, especially stan- decrease significantly when we look at M.A. degrees
dardized achievement tests, meet these three rules and Ph.D. degrees. In a nutshell, because of the causal
perfectly. First, they are easily measurable; second, linear relationship between IQ and academic achieve-
students take them under very controlled conditions— ment, quantitative constraints to achieving higher
albeit with some occasional cheating!—and take education degrees monotonically increase as IQ scores
them repeatedly year after year; third, assuming the decrease.
general comparability of grade level cohorts, average Predicting occupational achievement. Literature
performances increase from one grade level to the reviews abound on the predictive validity of IQ
next as students add more learning and practice scores with regard to job performance (e.g., Hunter
(Gagné, 2005b). Consequently, there is no reason for & Hunter, 1984; Gottfredson, 1997b; Schmidt &
Antinats to reject concurrent and predictive validation Hunter, 1998). Ericsson et al. (2007) briefly cite the
studies that compare IQ scores with academic achieve- Hunter & Hunter (1984) review as follows: “The
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7 Debating Giftedness 169

01 observed correlations between particular tests and the of the low-IQ mothers’ children had IQs below 75; (b)
02 criterion performance is [sic] often relatively low and four times as many (17% vs. 4%) low-IQ mothers had
03 in the 0.1 to 0.3 range” (p. 13). Strangely, citing the illegitimate children; (c) five times as many low-IQ
04 same source, Gottfredson (1997b) presents a totally mothers lived in poverty (16% vs. 3%), or went on
05 different picture, pointing out among other things that welfare after their first child was born (21% vs. 4%);
06 the predictive validity of IQ scores is directly related (d) seven times as many (7% vs. 1%) low-IQ men had
07 to job complexity. In their literature review, Hunter been incarcerated; (e) eight times as many (17% vs.
08 & Hunter (1984) subdivided general job families into 2%) low-IQ mothers were chronic welfare recipients;
09 three levels of complexity: low (e.g., assembler, fork- and, finally, (f) the ratio of high school dropouts
10 lift operator), medium (e.g., auto mechanic, radiology between the two groups was no less than 85:1 (35%
11 technician, high school teacher), and high (e.g., retail vs. 0.4%)! Again, we observe how IQ scores produce
12 food manager, biologist, administrator). Gottfredson significant quantitative constraints to the quality of life
13 summarized their results as follows: “The validity among Caucasian adults, so much so that Gottfredson
14 of cognitive ability (corrected for unreliability and concludes, “There are many other valued human traits
15 restriction in range) for predicting job performance besides g. . .but none seems to affect individuals’ life
16 rose. . .from .40, to .51, and .58, respectively, for chances so systematically and so powerfully in modern
17 the low, medium, and high ‘data’ complexity job life as does g. To the extent that one is concerned about
18 families” (p. 82). She concluded, “g can be said to inequality in life chances, one must be concerned
19 be the most powerful single predictor of overall job about differences in g” (pp. 120–121).
20 performance.. . .No other single predictor measured The limits of IQ plasticity. Angoff (1988) mentioned
21 to date (specific aptitude, personality, education, resistance to change as one typical characteristic of
22 experience) seems to have such consistently high natural abilities (aptitudes); it is directly related of
23 predictive validities for job performance” (p. 83). In a course to the constraints that the genetic endowment
24 more recent and extensive literature review, Schmidt imposes on their plasticity. With regard to general
25 & Hunter (1998) assessed the relative effectiveness of intelligence, three distinct sources of evidence illus-
26 19 predictors of job performance used in personnel trate this resistance: (a) stability indices of IQ scores,
27 selection. They compared general mental ability (b) early interventions with low-income and at-risk
28 (GMA) with 18 other predictors of job performance children, and (c) adoption studies. In their renowned
29 or job training success (e.g., work sample tests, in- handbook, Anastasi & Urbina (1997) review longi-
30 tegrity tests, work knowledge, biographical data, even tudinal studies of children’s intelligence. They point
31 graphology). They concluded that GMA outranked all out that “as would be expected, retest correlations are
32 other techniques in predictive power. At best, a few higher, the shorter the interval between tests. With
33 predictors added about 25% to the predictive power of a constant interval between tests, moreover, retest
34 GMA alone. correlations tend to be higher the older the children”
35 Predicting other life outcomes. The predictive (p. 324). Most of the correlations they cite exceed .60.
36 power of IQ tests extends well beyond academic For instance, they describe a long-term follow-up of
37 achievement and job performance. Herrnstein & children initially tested between the ages of 2 and 5 for
38 Murray (1994) used a five-category breakdown of IQ the standardization sample of the 1937 Stanford-Binet.
39 scores (bottom 5%, next 20%, middle 50%, next 20%, “Initial IQs correlated .65 with 10-year retests and
40 top 5%) to examine the impact of individual differ- .59 with 25-year retests. The correlation between
41 ences in intelligence on various life outcomes. Their the 10-year retest (mean age = 14) and the 25-year
42 observations are disseminated through Chapters 5–11 retest (mean age = 29) was .85” (p. 324). Anastasi &
43 in The Bell Curve. Gottfredson (1997b) summarized Urbina caution that these high values leave room for
44 them in one table (Table 10, p. 118). To illustrate a few occasional significant changes over time, especially
45 highlights from that table, I will use two comparison when individuals encounter long-term traumatic
46 groups, the below average 20% (IQs between 76 and situations.
47 90) and above average 20% (IQs between 111 and The second source of evidence comes from system-
48 125). Among other things, this comparison reveals the atic early education programs, especially with at-risk
49 following disparities: (a) twice as many (17% vs. 7%) or low-income children. Everyone remembers Head
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170 F. Gagné

01 Start, probably the most extensive of these early stimu- tion (7–8 IQ points) when these children are adopted
02 lation programs. Haskins (1989) reviewed short-term into families that offer more favorable developmen-
03 and long-term educational impacts of a large group tal and educational environments. In other words, two
04 of these model programs organized into the Consor- crucial characteristics of natural abilities—here general
05 tium for Longitudinal Studies. On the basis of multi- intelligence—contribute to the level of constraints en-
06 ple follow-up IQ tests between the ages of 6 and 17 countered by individuals. First, their genetic roots cre-
07 he described a pattern of initial gains followed by de- ate important resistance to change; second, their causal
08 clines. He quoted a follow-up review by Lazar, Dar- power over various life outcomes reinforces the size of
09 lington, Murray, Royce, & Snipper (1982): “The au- these constraints.
10 thors’ conclusion that early education ‘produced an in- Relative predictive powers. In statement 12 of the
11 crease in low-income children’s intelligence test scores MSOI declaration the signatories affirm that general
12 that lasted for several years’ but was ‘not permanent’ intelligence is often the strongest predictor of educa-
13 (p. 48) succinctly captures the complex set of IQ re- tional and occupational outcomes. Here is a recent con-
14 sults” (p. 273). Concerning specific Head Start im- tribution to the literature supporting that affirmation.
15 pacts, Haskins cited short-term intervention effect sizes Gagné & St Père (2002) reviewed the literature com-
16 “of .59 on IQ tests, .31 on school readiness tests, and paring the relative predictive power of intelligence and
17 .54 on achievement tests” (p. 277). But, he added, “ef- motivation with regard to academic achievement. Al-
18 fect sizes decline each year as children proceed through though hundreds of studies can be found for either
19 the public schools. None of the differences is educa- variable, the authors found only five macrolevel (non-
20 tionally meaningful after the first year of schooling” experimental) studies in which researchers had jointly
21 (p. 277). used both measures within an additive causal model.
22 The third and final set of data comes from adop- Which came out as the most powerful predictor? Here
23 tion studies, where children from low-income fami- is Gagné & St Père’s conclusion; it needs no additional
24 lies are adopted into families from higher socioeco- comment:
25 nomic status. Apart from a French study (Capron &
Motivation’s independent contribution to the prediction
26 Duyme, 1989) where a stronger impact of 12 IQ points of scholastic or occupational achievement appears
27 was observed, other adoption studies obtained more limited. It is frequently non-existent. . .or much less
28 modest results, with still unclear long-term impacts. powerful than the independent contribution of cognitive
abilities.. . .The 4:1 and 6:1 ratios respectively extracted
29 In her seminal book The Nurture Assumption, Har-
from Walberg’s (1984) and Schmidt and Hunter’s (1998)
30 ris (1998) summarized the results as follows: syntheses, probably upper-limit estimates, are more or
31 less equidistant from the two extremes (p. 78).
Behavioral geneticist Matt McGue is probably the world’s
leading expert on adoption studies of IQ. His current
guess is that the long-term benefits of adoption might
34 amount to about seven IQ points. Perhaps this finally Counterarguments
35 closes the case on the boast John B. Watson made so long
ago: “Give me a dozen healthy infants,” he said, “and
I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train himThe authors of the two Antinat target articles did have
a few things to say about general intelligence. This pre-
to become any type of specialist I might select—doctor,
38 lawyer,” you name it. An increase of seven IQ points is
sentation would not be complete without a critical anal-
not to be sneezed at, but it is not enough to get a child
of average genetic endowment into medical school (Har-
ysis of their views.
ris, 1998, p. 262). From Howe et al. (1998). By introducing their
fifth property, namely a need for “domain”(field)-
These three sets of empirical data converge on the specificity, Howe et al. (1998) automatically excluded
same two conclusions. First, the level of general in- general intelligence from their analysis. They mention
telligence stabilizes progressively during childhood; in it two or three times, but only to discuss its low
the absence of major stressful events, it remains very relationship with some specific abilities (e.g., music,
stable over the rest of the life span. Second, deliber- visual arts). For example, “Although the evidence
ate efforts to rise the IQ of at-risk children have had of a genetic contribution to human intelligence is
little long-term success, except for a moderate aver- consistent with the talent account, there are only weak
age improvement of at most half a standard devia- correlations between general intelligence and various
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7 Debating Giftedness 171

01 specific abilities” (p. 402). That quote acknowledges tique is unfair because it does not respect the mandate
02 the genetic endowment of intelligence, points out these scientists received from the French Minister of
03 weak predictive power with some specific skills, Public Instruction. He asked them to create a diagnostic
04 but completely ignores the large scientific literature instrument that would distinguish school children who
05 associating IQ scores with academic achievement and were failing because they did not have the necessary—
06 occupational performance. Some commentators (e.g., cognitive of course—aptitudes to succeed from school
07 Detterman et al., 1998; Gagné, 1998a; Plomin, 1998) children who were failing for other reasons (Anastasi
08 criticized the authors’ decision to include the fifth & Urbina, 1997). They were not asked to dissect the
09 property and thus ignore what Pronat scholars consider reasoning processes involved in answering language,
10 as the best documented instance of a natural ability. In geographical, or mathematical questions, just create an
11 their rejoinder, Howe et al. responded as follows: instrument with good concurrent validity.
For most people there is a clear distinction between spe- To better understand Ericsson et al.’s error of judg-
13 cific talents and general intelligence despite the fact that ment, it is useful to introduce here Embretson’s (1983)
14 these are related. This consideration makes it impossible twin outlooks for test validation. The first one, called
for us to agree with Plomin, Detterman et al., and Gagné “construct representation,” aims to “identify specific
that talent ought to be defined in a way that allows general
intelligence or cognitive ability to count as an instance of information-processing components and knowledge
17 it. The finding that intelligence is heritable does not seem stores needed to perform the tasks set by the test
18 to us to have much bearing on the viability of the talent items” (Anastasi & Urbina, 1997, p. 135). The sec-
account (pp. 432–433). ond, called “nomothetic span,” is concerned with
If I understand that statement correctly, it means that the network of relations a test entertains with other
because “most people” (who are they?) entertain a variables, including criterion performances and other
field-specific belief, the authors must reject the judg- real-life data. Binet and Simon’s mandate belongs
ment of experts, most of whom believe otherwise. It to the second perspective, whereas Ericsson et al.’s
seems to me a very strange decision. But let us read critique pertains to the first perspective. Moreover,
again carefully the first sentence of their quote. Could their critique does not even target the predictor but
these “people” have in mind, as a majority of lay people the criterion! Said differently, Ericsson et al.’s (2007)
do (Gagné, Bélanger, & Motard, 1993), the DMGT’s “complaint” that Binet and Simon did not try “to
distinction between gifts and talents? If so, then they do capture the essence of the criterion performance”
make a “clear distinction between specific [systemati- means that they should have examined in depth the
cally developed] talents and general intelligence.” And, component skills that make up a particular field’s
exactly because of that distinction, these talents are not expert performance. The only valid purpose for such
“innate,” whereas general cognitive ability has a strong a “skill dissection” operation is to better understand
hereditary basis, as Howe et al. themselves acknowl- the nature of the criterion itself; in other words, what
edge. does expertise look like? It will in no way help answer
From Ericsson et al. (2007). Ericsson et al. (2007) the question that professionals in the field of talent
do not directly discuss the theme of general intelli- development consider their core problem: how do
gence as a natural ability. Nowhere did I find direct and non-criterion variables (the DMGT’s G, I, D, and E
substantial counterevidence to the arguments presented components) causally contribute to the emergence of
here on the nature of intelligence, its heritability, and talents (Ericsson’s expert performances)?
its predictive power. They briefly mention the subject A few paragraphs later, Ericsson et al. (2007) state
within two sections of their target article. In the first that “one of the goals of ability research is to uncover
one, they begin by criticizing the work of Binet and latent variables that measure cognitive capacities, such
Simon, precursors of intelligence testing, saying that as ‘g’, by analyzing performance on a large number
their approach “does not try to capture the essence of of test items for large representative groups of a pop-
the criterial performance, namely performance on the ulation and then measure its relation to some other la-
school examinations themselves, but rather searches tent criterion variable measuring performance” (p. 13).
for any tasks and items of reasoning, memory, and Again, that “one” goal includes both the construct rep-
other cognitive functions that correlate with and thus resentation perspective (uncover latent variables) and
can predict the target performance” (p. 12). That cri- the nomothetic span outlook (measure its relation with
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172 F. Gagné

01 a latent criterion variable). Having stated that goal, they to that “omission” in the second part (“Major Lapses”
02 conclude that they are “unaware of successful attempts section). Then comes their only direct discussion of the
03 to understand many of these latent variables (abilities) nature of general intelligence:
04 beyond an intuitive level” (p. 19). It is not clear if the
It is possible that a general ability could represent some
05 “latent variables” mentioned refer to the first set (the form of genetic talent. Notably, whether such a general
06 determinants of g) or the second (the nature of out- ability exists is still disputed. Some researchers claim
07 side criteria). In the first case, there is a large amount that the evidence for a general cognitive ability, the ‘g’
factor, is overwhelming given findings from factor anal-
08 of scientific literature on the “dissection” of cognitive
yses of the well-replicated finding of positive manifold
09 tasks. It begins with Jean Piaget’s seminal work and (Jensen, 1998; Carroll, 2003). These researchers claim
10 includes hundreds of studies in the fields of cognition that IQ scores, for instance, largely reflect such a fac-
11 and psychometrics (Sternberg, 1982). It culminates in tor. However, other researchers have disagreed with this
interpretation, arguing that positive manifold may reflect
12 the seminal work of J. B. Carroll (1993) on the hierar-
whatever circumstances or influences that lead some in-
13 chical structure of human abilities. As for the second dividuals to acquire more of the skills measured in typ-
14 case, namely the analysis of outside criteria, it is not ical IQ tests. Indeed, many researchers have suggested
15 relevant to the present theme because it concerns mea- that schooling plays a large causal role in influencing IQ
scores (Ceci, 1991) (2007, p. 37).
16 sures of talent and not giftedness.
17 In their second brief look at general cognitive abil- This quote completely misrepresents existing theoret-
18 ities, Ericsson et al. (2007) begin with the following ical views in the field of cognitive studies. First, as
19 statement: “Behavioral geneticists argue that most cog- shown in the first three statements from the MSOI dec-
20 nitive abilities and physical characteristics are deter- laration described earlier, the existence of a general
21 mined in part by genetic factors and typically around cognitive ability does not represent the “claim” of a
22 half of the variance in individual differences is heri- few scientists, but a fact acknowledged by a large num-
23 table” (p. 36). They say nothing about their own po- ber of eminent specialists. Second, the strong heritabil-
24 sition concerning the heritability of general cognitive ity of general intelligence directly contradicts the envi-
25 abilities, except by cautioning that “heritability does ronmentalist interpretations of the few—not “many” as
26 not imply immutability or unchangeability” (p. 36), a claimed—scientists who question the concept of gen-
27 statement no expert will contest. That introduction is eral intelligence and its heritability. Finally, I would be
28 followed by a major argument, namely “that observed curious to know who, besides Ceci, are those “many”
29 heritabilities for cognitive tasks in a similar manner do researchers who, according to Ericsson et al., “claim”
30 not reflect upper-bounds of functioning (limits on at- that “schooling plays a large causal role [my empha-
31 tainable performance) when we are addressing these is- sis] in influencing IQ scores.” I cannot remember hav-
32 sues within the domain of general psychology” (p. 36). ing seen in the mainstream literature on general intel-
33 I have tried in the preceding section to defend the ligence that strange inversion of the well-recognized
34 opposite position. I must reiterate that the recogni- causal relationship between IQ as a predictor and aca-
35 tion of limits imposed by the level of natural abilities demic achievement as the criterion.
36 does not deny the immense improvements in perfor- From Ericsson et al., this handbook. Having ob-
37 mance that systematic learning and practice can bring tained with the permission of the first author Ericsson
38 about over months and years. But as shown by at least et al.’s manuscript for this handbook, I was surprised
39 two studies (Baltes & Kliegl, 1992; Fox, Hershberger, to discover that the authors had chosen to completely
40 & Bouchard, 1996), when individuals are followed ignore the subject of intellectual giftedness. Yet, from
41 through a long, testing-the-limits process of learning, the references they cite in the target article (Ericsson
42 they do not reach an almost identical level of maxi- et al., 2007), they know very well how closely the con-
43 mal expertise. Quite the opposite, not only does the structs of intelligence and giftedness are associated in
44 range of individual differences remain, but it approx- the minds—and writings—of most specialists in gifted
45 imately doubles in one case (Fox et al.), creating a education. So, considering the focus of this handbook,
46 fan spread effect similar to the one I observed with that decision is indeed very strange.
47 academic achievement test data (Gagné, 2005b). Both [Note. This is the only reference I will make to that
48 Howe et al. and Ericsson et al. completely ignored that chapter. I believe it would not be fair to discuss and
49 crucial result from these two studies. I will come back criticize it if its authors did not get an equal opportunity
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7 Debating Giftedness 173

01 to respond. That was not possible since I completed dations and predictive power, it can contribute sub-
02 this chapter after they had sent theirs.] stantial information to the present debate. I will adopt
03 the same sequence here as in the preceding section.
04 To avoid confusion, I will use the expression physical
05 Summary ability when discussing natural abilities, and (athletic)
06 skills when describing the (systematically developed)
07 I tried in this section to pre-empt the major objections competencies typical of a given sport.
08 advanced by Antinats who reject general intelligence
09 as a major natural ability. The evidence I presented
10 makes it clear that general intelligence meets all six Defining Physical Abilities
11 defining criteria I listed for an ability to be labeled
12 “natural.” Not only does it clearly belong to the realm The sensorimotor domain comprises two very distinct
13 of abilities but its definition, as it appears in the subgroups: sensations and motions. Although the first
14 MSOI declaration (Gottfredson, 1997a), is shared by subgroup has received little attention in the field of
15 a majority of specialists in the field. It has strong and sports, it is worth a brief look.
16 undisputed genetic roots and develops progressively The sensory component. The most common clas-
17 and informally, which makes it somewhat resistant sification of the senses is no doubt the five senses:
18 to change. Its significant—and often preeminent— touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight. This common
19 predictive power for a diversity of life outcomes sense classification can get much more technical. For
20 (educational, occupational, societal) confirms that its instance, Kipfer (1997) distinguishes “deep senses
21 reasoning and problem-solving processes serve as (muscle, tendon, joint, deep pain and pressure), skin
22 building blocks for a large variety of competencies; senses (touch, skin pain, temperature), special senses
23 this fundamental role makes general intelligence (vision, hearing, smell, taste, vestibular-equilibrium),
24 totally field independent. Finally, because of its and visceral senses (conveyance of information about
25 causal influence as a building block of skills, general organic and visceral events)” (p. 67). Kipfer’s first
26 intelligence creates major quantitative, thus practical, category, plus the vestibular-equilibrium special sense,
27 constraints to achievements. Said differently, as the could jointly correspond to kinesthesia or “the sensa-
28 level of intelligence decreases, the upper limit for tion, of position, movement, tension, etc. of parts of the
29 achievements in many fields also decreases. body, perceived through nerve end organs in muscles,
30 As the Romans would say, “Quod erat demonstran- tendons, and joints” (Webster, 1983). Although the
31 dum.” [What was to be demonstrated.] status of kinesthesia as a sensory or motor component
appears unclear from various sources, that debate does
not impact the present discussion.
Evidence from the Physical Domain6 We commonly associate high sensory aptitudes

with non-sport occupations, for instance smell and
taste with wine tasting or professional cuisine, hearing
37 Since the realm of physical abilities is the second most with music, touch with osteopathy. In sports, the
38 researched ability domain with regard to genetic foun- motor component gets most of the attention. But the
quality of movements depends in no minor part on
40 6 This section, initially planned, had been deleted because of its the constant perceptual integration of sensory inputs.
potential overlap with another chapter on the subject of talent Bartlett (1958) summarized that indissociable “part-
42 development in sports (Van Rossum, this handbook). When I ex- nership” very well. “Skilled performance must all the
amined the manuscript, kindly sent by the author, I discovered
that it almost completely ignored the question of physical gift-
time submit to receptor control, and must be initiated
edness and its impact on talent development in sports. I was ex- and directed by the signals which the performer must
pecting that the subject of physical giftedness would be its focus. pick up from his environment, in combination with
46 Instead, Van Rossum devoted the lion’s share of his text to envi- other signals, internal to his own body, which tell him
ronmental factors (e.g., parents, school, coach, injuries). In view
of this lack of information and although I am not a specialist in
about his own movements as he makes them” (p. 14).
sport, the editor and I jointly decided to reintroduce a section on And Gardner (1983) called one of his intelligences
the physical domain. “bodily kinesthetic” thus linking the perceptual and
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174 F. Gagné

01 motor (or mental and physical) dimensions of human joining genes to physical abilities, and ultimately to
02 activity. In brief, although this section will focus on athletic skills. For that reason, they will appear as
03 the motor component, we should always keep in mind relevant variables in the next two sections on the
04 the close partnership between the two components. genetics and predictive power of physical abilities.
05 The motor component. The second component has Many different classifications have been proposed
06 direct relationships with sports, almost all sports.7 The for natural motor abilities. Burton & Miller (1998)
07 preliminary condition I stated, namely circumscribing reviewed a few of them, including Harrow’s (1972)
08 what belongs to the realm of abilities, is especially well-known description of the physical component in
09 relevant here. Researchers in sports commonly mix Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (1956).
10 behavioral measures of abilities (e.g., running speed, They then described their own developmental taxon-
11 jumping height) with anatomical or morphological omy of movement skills, in which foundation areas
12 indices (height, weight, limb measurements), and/or serve as building blocks for mature functional move-
13 physiological and metabolic measures (e.g., VO2 max, ment skills.9 Their foundation complex includes 11
14 glucose tolerance). Only the first category meets my elements: balance-postural control; body composition;
15 definition of ability; the other two must be excluded, body size and morphology; cardiovascular endurance;
16 not for lack of relevance to talent development in cognition; flexibility range of motion; knowledge; mo-
17 sports, but because they belong to a different level tivation and affect; muscular strength and endurance;
18 of analysis. Physiological or metabolic processes are neurological functioning reflexes; sensations-sensory
19 endophenotypes; they correspond to “physical traits— integration-perception. That long list associates very
20 phenotypes—that are not externally visible but are disparate elements; its lack of structure made it less
21 measurable. Endophenotypes can reveal the biological attractive. Among the taxonomies I examined, I
22 bases for a disorder better than behavioral symptoms preferred the well-structured model that Bouchard &
23 because they represent a fundamental physical trait Shepard (1994) proposed to analyze human fitness
24 that is more closely tied to its source in a gene variant” and performance. It includes five major components,
25 (Nurnberger & Bierut, 2007, pp. 48–49). Similarly, three of which are endophenotypes (the first one only
26 Gottesman & Todd (2003) explain that in the case of partly): morphological (e.g., body mass index, body
27 phenomena having multi-gene origins endophenotypes composition and measurements, bone density, flexibil-
28 provide “a means for identifying the ‘downstream’ ity of joints), physiological (e.g., maximum aerobic
29 traits or facets of clinical phenotypes, as well as the power, heart and lung functions), and metabolic (e.g.,
30 ‘upstream’ consequences of genes” (p. 637). This glucose tolerance, insulin sensitivity) causal agents.
31 definition of endophenotypes excludes morphological The last two components represent natural abilities: (a)
32 characteristics; but, even though most morphological the muscular component expressed in power, strength,
33 characteristics are directly observable exophenotypes, and endurance; (b) the motor component manifested in
34 just like physical abilities and athletic skills, their agility, balance, coordination, and speed. Readers will
35 stronger genetic roots place them at a more basic easily associate these abilities with specific sports, like
36 causal level. Both endophenotypes and morphological strength with weight lifting, flexibility and balance
37 traits are part of the complex hierarchical causal chain8

genes → proteins → biological development of structures
7 A brief surf on the web reveals the debated nature of strat- → morphological–physiological characteristics or processes →
physical abilities → athletic skills. Any element mediating the
egy games (e.g., card games, chess, backgammon) as “real”
41 sports. Video games are probably the least disputed case. But relationship between genes and physical ability could be consid-
42 the pro side got official support during the inauguration of the ered an endophenotype and help explain the processes through
IOC Bridge Grand Prix held at the Olympic Museum in Lau- which genes exert their causal action.
sanne. Damiani (1999) titled his report “Bridge is a sport” say- 9 Burton & Miller (1998) mention an ongoing debate on the ex-
ing, “The words were spoken by the President of the IOC, Mr. istence of “motor” abilities. They affirm that “there is little ev-
45 Juan Antonio Samaranch, who stated that ‘bridge is a sport and, idence that motor abilities exist” (p. 43). Yet in a later chapter
46 as such, your place is here like all other sports”’ (p. 1). If recog- (Chapter 8), they discuss the difference between motor abilities
nized as sports, these activities would require little competitive and movement skills, proposing four key differences: generality,
motor skills! product of factor analyses, theoretical origin, and resistance to
48 8 A more detailed hierarchical chain of causal influences from change. I will leave to sport specialists further discussion of this
genes to human behavior could look somewhat like this: debated question.
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7 Debating Giftedness 175

01 with gymnastics, speed with sprinting, coordination The Genetics of Physical Abilities
02 with many team sports, and endurance with road
03 cycling. Professional beliefs in the strong genetic roots of
04 Measuring physical abilities. Natural abilities can physical abilities and athletic performance go back
05 be measured at a very early age, usually by the start many decades. In their seminal chapter on talent identi-
06 of formal schooling, well before children have begun fication, Régnier, Salmela, & Russell (1993) reviewed
07 any specific training in sports. Physical education nine different models of talent detection published
08 teachers regularly assess some of these abilities more during the 1970s and 1980s (Bar-Or, Bompa, Dreke,
09 or less formally during their physical education classes Geron, Gimbel, Harre, Havlicek, Jones & Watson,
10 with young students. More systematic assessments Montpetit & Cazorla); all of these models gave a
11 also exist. For instance, Morrow, Jackson, Disch, & significant role, sometimes the predominant role, to
12 Mood (2005) describe four different youth fitness bat- natural abilities and their anatomical or physiological
13 teries: FITNESSGRAM (Human Kinetics), President’s endophenotypes. But, although scholars created these
14 Challenge (two distinct batteries), and Netherlands’s models, many Antinat spokespersons will probably
15 Eurofit battery. They include a diversity of tests: curl- object that these theoretical models do not constitute
16 ups, shuttle runs, endurance runs or walks, pull-ups, hard evidence on the heritability of physical abilities.
17 push-ups, and so forth. Published norms reveal that So, instead of describing them in some detail, I will go
18 young children already differ considerably in their directly to empirical evidence. It began accumulating
19 physical abilities. For example, in the norms used during the 1970s, and the pace of research increased
20 for the President’s Challenge (2007) fitness tests, from decade to decade. I will survey this progress by
21 6-year-old boys in the bottom 5% (P5 ) take 18+ min borrowing heavily from two very different sources:
22 to run/walk 1 mile (1.62 km), whereas those at the 95th a recent technical literature review by MacArthur
23 percentile (P95 ) are twice as fast, covering that distance & North (2005) and a detailed examination of the
24 in a bit less than 9 min. The results are approximately size and sources of black–white differences in sport
25 the same for 6-year-old girls. In the case of curl-ups, achievements by an award-winning journalist (En-
26 6-year-old boys and girls at P5 can do only seven in tine, 2000). The same scientists will be repeatedly
27 60 seconds, whereas those at P95 can do 40 (boys) and cited by both sources, especially a large team under
28 36 (girls), at least five times as many. Note that these the leadership of Dr. Claude Bouchard, formerly from
29 comparisons exclude the top and bottom 5%. Laval University (Quebec).
30 Note on talents in sports. As soon as children or The MacArthur and North review. Right at the out-
31 adolescents start participating in systematic training set, in their abstract, MacArthur & North (2005) clearly
32 programs, they begin building skills directly related to state their strong belief in a significant hereditary com-
33 that sport. Their performance will no longer be mea- ponent of individual differences in physical abilities, as
34 sured through general tests of natural physical abilities, well as their morphological and physiological under-
35 but assessments will examine individual differences structures. That hereditary component applies not only
36 in learned skills. The diversity of sports is such to normal individuals but also to the sporting elite:
37 that classifications are not easy to make, especially
38 classifications with mutually exclusive categories. Physical fitness is a complex phenotype influenced by a
39 Going well beyond the very basic individual/team myriad of environmental and genetic factors, and vari-
ation in human physical performance and athletic abil-
40 dichotomy, Kipfer (1997, pp. 347–350) presented an
ity has long been recognized as having a strong herita-
41 interesting set of 11 non-mutually exclusive categories ble component. Recently, the development of technology
42 based on a special characteristic shared by groups for rapid DNA sequencing and genotyping has allowed
43 of sports: air (gliding, parasailing), animal (hunting, the identification of some of the individual genetic varia-
tions that contribute to athletic performance. This review
44 rodeo), athletics/gymnastics (aerobics, decathlon), ball
will examine the evidence that has accumulated over the
45 and stick (baseball, golf), combat (aikido, wrestling), last three decades for a strong genetic influence on hu-
46 court (handball, tennis), target (bowling, pool), team man physical performance, with an emphasis on two sets
47 (football, volleyball), water (diving, surfing), wheel of physical traits, viz. cardiorespiratory and skeletal mus-
cle function, which are particularly important for perfor-
48 (bicycling, car racing), and winter (bobsledding,
mance in a variety of sports. We will then review recent
49 skiing). studies that have identified individual genetic variants as-
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176 F. Gagné

01 sociated with variation in these traits and the polymor- The HERITAGE findings and other similar ones
02 phisms that have been directly associated with elite ath- encouraged attempts to identify genetic loci and spe-
lete status. Finally, we explore the scientific implications
of our rapidly growing understanding of the genetic basis
cific polymorphisms that impact human physical per-
of variation in performance (p. 331). formance. That line of research got a boost from vari-
05 ous technical discoveries, as well as the decoding of the
MacArthur & North (2005) begin the text itself by human genome. “The process of identifying and geno-
pointing out that “elite athletes, viz. athletes who have typing candidate genetic variations for performance-
competed at a national or international level in their related traits has accelerated over the last 5 years and
chosen sport, represent a rare convergence of genetic the results are catalogued in the 2001, 2002, 2003 and
potential and environmental factors” (p. 331), adding 2004 releases of the human gene map for performance
that “most of us could never achieve elite athlete status, and health-related fitness phenotypes” (MacArthur &
however hard we trained [a clear statement of major North, 2005, p. 332). From just a few genes identi-
constraints]. Just as genetic predisposition plays a ma- fied before 1997, the list grew to 48 by the end of
jor role in determining one’s susceptibility to multifac- 2003. Then, the number exploded; over 160 candidate
torial diseases such as diabetes and cancer, elite athletic genes had been identified by the end of 2005 (Ranki-
performance is a complex fitness phenotype substan- nen et al., 2006). The authors of that specialized gene
tially determined by genetic potential” (p. 331). They map state that “the physical performance phenotypes
tell how the first strong evidence for a genetic influ- for which genetic data are available include cardiores-
ence on physical performance came from familial stud- piratory endurance, elite endurance athlete status, mus-
ies (e.g., comparisons of identical vs. fraternal twins, cle strength, other muscle performance traits, and exer-
biological vs. adopted siblings, parents vs. children). cise intolerance of variable degrees” (p. 1863).
Bouchard and his team were pioneers in that type of MacArthur & North (2005) examine a few of the
research, gathering a large database called the HER- genes that have received more attention, specially the
ITAGE (health, risk factors, exercise training and ge- ACE I/D variant, which they consider to be “the most
netics) Family Study (Bouchard et al., 1995). A con- widely studied genetic variant in the context of elite
sortium of five universities in the United States and athlete status and performance-related traits” (p. 333).
Canada joined forces to gather the database, composed They note that results from dozens of studies “sug-
of 101 white and 127 black families who were assessed gest that the two alleles at the ACE I/D polymor-
in the sedentary state and in response to a standardized phism have differing effects on athletic performance,
20-week aerobic exercise training program (Bouchard, with the I [insert] allele favoring endurance ability
Malina, & Pérusse, 1997). and the D [delete] allele improving performance in
MacArthur & North (2005) summarize some of the sprint or power events” (p. 334). Looking at the future,
numerous studies (literally dozens of them) produced MacArthur & North (2005) envision that “the process
from that database. These researchers obtained her- of talent identification could, in principle, be revolu-
itability estimates ranging from 20% to 75% for a tionized by the discovery and characterization of ge-
diversity of factors associated with physical perfor- netic variants that strongly influence athletic perfor-
mance: maximum oxygen uptake in the sedentary state mance, with routine genetic analysis being added to
and in response to training, oxygen consumption and the existing battery of physiological, biochemical and
power output during submaximal exercise, the exercise psychological tests” (pp. 335–336). But, with the cau-
heart response rate to training, muscle adaptation to tion typical of good scientists, they point out that this
endurance exercise, vertical jump height, and various field is embryonic, and that “there is still no evidence
measures of muscle strength and response to training. that any of these variants have any substantial predic-
The Laval group also demonstrated the significant her- tive value for prospectively identifying potential elite
itability of “trainability,” the response of individuals to athletes” (p. 336).
systematic training (Bouchard et al., 1997). MacArthur Entine’s (2000) “Taboo” subject. Jon Entine’s
and North finally note Simoneau & Bouchard’s (1995) book, Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports
study in which they estimated that the genetic contribu- and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About It, is one of
tion to variation in the relative proportions of skeletal the most fascinating books I have read recently. It
muscle fiber types lay between 40% and 50%. surveys very comprehensively the genetic, cultural,
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7 Debating Giftedness 177

01 and physiological roots of black athletic superiority sports, and also between blacks of different African
02 in sports. The author recounts the history of human descent, let us survey how Entine covers the scientific
03 migrations, specially in Africa, and the story of black literature on the genetic roots of these differences.
04 segregation and eventual participation in various The following quotes come from his Chapter 19,
05 sports. He discusses sociological explanations and Winning the Genetic Lottery.10 Entine first talks about
06 their limits, presents short individual vignettes of morphologic differences. “With their ectomorphic
07 famous athletes, and describes the latest scientific physiques, Kenyans will never compete for the title of
08 breakthroughs in evolution and genetic research. ‘world’s fastest human,’ no matter how diligently they
09 Two types of information from Entine’s book appear may train. The converse holds true for West Africans.
10 relevant to the present debate: (a) statistics on the It’s genetically improbable to expect to find any elite
11 phenomenon itself and (b) highlights from Entine’s marathoners coming out of Cameroon, Nigeria, or
12 overview of the behavior genetics literature. Here are Senegal” (p. 249) [Damon et al., 1962; Roberts &
13 a few astounding statistical data: Bainbridge, 1977]. “It’s estimated that 40 percent of
14 the phenotypic variance of fiber type is due to environ-
Check the NBA [National Basketball Association] statis- mental influences such as exercise, whereas 45 percent
tics: not one white player has finished among the top scor-
ers or rebounders in recent years. White running backs, is associated with genetic factors (the remaining 15
17 cornerbacks, or wide receivers in the NFL [National Foot- percent is due to sampling error. Although physical
18 ball League]? Count them on one hand. Roll the calendar activity can improve fitness, it cannot alter a person’s
back decades, to the 1950s, to find the last time a white biological endowment” (p. 253).
led baseball in steals. A white male toeing the line at an
Olympic 100-meter final? Not in decades. Don’t expect He then addresses early developmental differences:
21 to see a white man set a world record in a road race—any “Numerous studies have found that by age five or
22 race, at any distance from 100-meters to the marathon. It six black children consistently excel in the dash, the
may happen. In some future decade. But don’t hold your long jump, and the high jump, all of which require
breath. (p. 19)
All of the thirty-two finalists in the last four Olympic a short power burst. Racial differences become more
25 men’s 100-meter races are of West African descent. pronounced over time” (p. 251) [Malina, 1969, 1986,
26 The likelihood of that happening based on population 1988]. I doubt that such early differences can be
numbers alone—blacks with ancestral roots in that satisfactorily explained just with informal practice
region represent 8 percent of the world’s population—is
0.0000000000000000000000000000000001. (p. 34) differences, and without any differential maturational
29 [Yes, 33 zeros!] effects. The next quote illustrates direct differences in
30 All told, Kenya has collected thirty-eight Olympic physical abilities with athletes who have reached peak
medals since the 1964 Olympics.. . .Based on popula- performance: “Scientists. . .frequently test for vertical
tion percentages alone, the likelihood that this Texas-
sized country could turn in such a remarkable medal per- leap—the ability to jump into the air without a run-up.
33 formance is one in 1.6 billion.. . .One small district, the A jump of one-third of an athlete’s height is considered
34 Nandi, with only 1.8 percent of Kenya’s population, has impressive. White members of a U.S. Olympic men’s
produced about half of the world-class Kalenjin athletes volleyball team, known for their terrific vertical leap,
and 20 percent of all the winners of major international
distance-running events (pp. 39–40). max out at 50 percent. Black basketball players com-
37 monly exceed that figure” (p. 252) [Capouya, 1986]. I
The best summary I found of Entine’s evidence comes do not believe that disparities in deliberate practice can
from a Burfoot (1992) quote: “Given the universality of explain such large differences among elite athletes.
running, it’s reasonable to expect that the best runners The last three quotes, somewhat longer, present results
should come from a wide-range of countries and racial from empirical studies briefly summarized by Entine:
groups. This isn’t, however, what happens. Nearly all While searching for a gene responsible for muscle
the sprints are won by runners of West African de- weakness caused by [muscular dystrophy], researchers
scent. Nearly all the distance races are won, remark- at a Sydney, Australia, hospital found that 20 percent of
ably, by runners from just one small corner of one
small African country [Kenya’s Nandi district]” (En- 10
Most of the quotes I borrowed from Entine’s Chapter 19 in-
tine, 2000, pp. 30–31). clude reference note numbers to the scientific references from
Now that we have basic data on the large gap in which came the presented evidence. These references appear
performance between white and black athletes in some within brackets immediately after each quote.
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178 F. Gagné

01 people of Caucasian and Asian background have what the evidence into indirect and direct forms. But first I
02 they affectionately called a “wimp gene,” a defective would like to briefly discuss a particular characteristic
gene that blocks the body from producing a-actinin-3,
which provides the explosive power in fast-twitch
of the field of sports that has considerable impact on
muscles. However, samples drawn from African Bantus, the subject of predictive power.
05 specifically Zulu tribal members, showed that only 3 Preliminary question. Whether they are fast or slow
06 percent had the wimp gene. The discovery could explain learners, more or less intrinsically or extrinsically mo-
why “some people train for ages but remain eighty-pound
weaklings, while others develop muscles very quickly,”
tivated, all children must attend school, at least until
said the team leader, Dr. Kathryn North. (pp. 254–255) mid-adolescence. Compared with other fields of human
09 [North et al., 1999] activity, that unique characteristic of the schooling pro-
10 In a treadmill study, black marathoners consistently cess has a direct impact on research: validation stud-
bested whites. . ..There was a dramatic difference in the
ability of the blacks to run at a higher maximum oxy-
ies of the predictive power of intelligence will benefit
gen capacity. In the case of the marathoners, blacks per- from an almost unselected population of children from
13 formed at 89 percent of the maximum oxygen capacity, a given age group. Non-selection means large varia-
14 while whites lagged by nearly 10 percent. The muscles of tions on both predictor and criterion measures; and
the black athletes also showed far fewer signs of fatigue
as measured by lactic acid. (p. 258) [Coetzer et al., 1993]
more variation means more predictive potential. The
In one recent genetic study, Bouchard and his team picture changes drastically when we leave general edu-
17 found that individual differences in physical trainabil- cation. A new major variable appears: liberty of choice.
18 ity can be directly correlated to specific gene sequences. Unless subject to strong parental pressures, children
A similar study by scientists at the University College
of London have [sic] isolated what they have dubbed
with limited physical abilities or motivation can avoid
“high performance genes,” a stretch of DNA that helps sports almost completely. And even if they partici-
21 regulate metabolic efficiency. Those who had this gene pate recreationally, they stand little risk of being cho-
22 variant more efficiently transferred nutrients and oxy- sen for—or applying to—competitive training groups.
gen to the muscles—they were able to work harder with
less fuel, showed greater endurance, and responded to
For those who wish to go further, the very first selec-
physical-fitness training far better than those who did not. tive step to access competitive training becomes an-
25 The British scientists believe that 90 percent of the per- other powerful discriminator that further significantly
26 formance of athletes could be determined by their ge- decreases individual differences in both physical abil-
netic makeup, although no research had yet been done on
which population groups might be lucky enough to have
ity and motivation. But the reduction in ability variance
high performance genes (p. 267) [Glausiusz, 1999; Rivera does not stop there. Soon after they start participating
29 et al., 1997]. in competitive sports, young boys and girls with lim-
30 ited abilities, modest interest and/or little perseverance,
31 Between the British scientists’ very high heritability will start dropping out in large numbers from that first
32 estimate and Antinats’ 0% estimate I hope that read- competitive cohort (Van Rossum, this handbook, Sec-
33 ers will have found in the above evidence enough sup- tion Dropout).
34 port for a middle-of-the-road 50% proposal. Again, as In other words, I believe that young boys and girls
35 the Romans were fond to say, “In medio stat virtus” who are actively involved in the early steps of compet-
36 [Virtue is in moderation]. itive training in most sports already constitute a very
37 biased sample in terms of many personal and envi-
38 ronmental characteristics, especially the level of their
39 The Predictive Power of Physical Abilities physical abilities. Compared to the general population
40 of age peers, I would estimate that a majority of them
My limited expertise in sport psychology precludes any belong to the physically gifted (top 10%) population.
attempt at summarizing the vast scientific literature on The impact of this hypothetical scenario on talent de-
the concurrent and predictive validity of natural abil- velopment research is clear: an early major decrease
ities with regard to achievements in sport. But I do in ability and motivation variance reduces their predic-
not believe that a satisfactory demonstration requires tive “potential” by comparison to other causal factors.
a comprehensive literature review; so long as I can These variables have already exerted their major im-
show some clear evidence that physical natural abilities pact at the very beginning of the talent development
do predict sports achievements with at least moderate process. How plausible is that scenario? Unfortunately,
power, I will consider my point made. I will subdivide the scientific literature on the predictive power of var-
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7 Debating Giftedness 179

01 ious variables during the early steps of the talent de- the population variation disappears, since chosen ath-
02 velopment process seems very limited. The chapters letes all perform well in the top 5% of the population
03 on talent detection in both editions of the Handbook norms. Not a single one of them would be considered
04 of Sport Psychology (Durand-Bush & Salmela, 2001; below the DMGT’s mild or moderate giftedness levels.
05 Régnier et al., 1993) do not discuss it in detail, nor do The second piece of indirect evidence has its source
06 they present empirical evidence on the short-term pre- in a widely cited interview study (Bloom, 1985a). Ben-
07 dictive power of various predictors during these early jamin Bloom and his collaborators interviewed about
08 phases. Until such evidence becomes available, I re- 20 internationally renowned individuals in each of six
09 main convinced that by the time young athletes reach fields: music and sculpture in arts, mathematics and
10 regional or state levels of competition, none of them neurology in science, tennis and swimming in sports.
11 still belong to the average population in terms of their Right at the outset of the book, Bloom (1985b) ex-
12 physical abilities. Said differently, non-gifted physi- pressed his strong environmental leanings: “It is likely
13 cal abilities have practically constrained their access to that some combinations of the home, the teachers, the
14 middle levels of competition, let alone higher levels. schools, and the society may in large part determine
15 And, as we will see below, athletes who have reached what portions of this potential pool of talent become
16 at least state-level competition constitute the vast ma- developed” (p. 5). In the final chapter, he reiterated
17 jority of samples in predictive studies in sport. Yet, in that credo, but added two important causal ingredients.
18 spite of that intense selectivity, we will discover that First, he mentioned three critical intrapersonal cata-
19 natural abilities maintain significant predictive power. lysts, namely a strong commitment to the chosen tal-
20 Now, let us move on to the first type of evidence. ent field, a very high achievement motivation, and a
21 Indirect evidence. The first indirect piece of evi- willingness to put in great amounts of time and ef-
22 dence comes from the Australian Institute of Sport fort. Second, he acknowledged the role of giftedness:
23 (AIS). About 15 years ago, AIS professionals started a “Another general quality that was noted in each of the
24 countrywide Talent Search Program based heavily on talent fields was the ability to learn rapidly and well”
25 measures of natural abilities and physiological char- (p. 545). In fact, in an earlier preliminary publication
26 acteristics. They invited all secondary schools to ad- on these interviews, Bloom had already acknowledged
27 minister a battery of tests to large numbers of young individual differences in natural ability among subjects
28 (14- to 16-year-old) adolescents. About 40% of invited in his sample:
29 schools across Australia did participate, implying that
In homes where other children were also interested in the
30 more than 100,000 high school students were tested
talent area, the parents sometimes mentioned that one of
31 (Hoare, 1996). Those with very high scores (about the other children had even greater “gifts” than the in-
32 the top 10%) were offered a more detailed regional dividual in the sample, but that the other child was not
33 measurement session. Then, the regional high achiev- willing to put in the time and effort that the parents or
the teacher expected and required (Bloom, 1982, pp. 512–
34 ers were invited to the national center for even more
35 advanced tests in their laboratories. Those who ob-
36 tained high scores in the lab tests were offered a sub- The third and last example comes from one of my
37 sidized high-level talent development program, super- own studies (Gagné, Blanchard, & Bégin, 1998). We
38 vised by state and national sports associations. All in queried 467 athletes and coaches about their relative
39 all, about 1,000 athletes joined a talent development ranking of causal determinants of excellence in sports.
40 program in a variety of sports. The program was judged They received a list of nine different characteristics
41 very successful, producing many junior world medal- (level of interest, perseverance and tenacity, level of
42 ists (Hoare, 1998). This approach, still in use along aptitudes, personal qualities, parental supervision and
43 with other procedures (Jason Gulbin, personal commu- encouragement, sport-centered family environment,
44 nication, February 9, 2007), confirms the significant amount of practice, quality of coaching, chance
45 role that the AIS reserves for physical abilities in the factors), and were asked to choose two (ranked 1
46 initial detection of promising athletes. It also shows and 2) that best distinguished very successful athletes
47 how restricted the range of physical abilities rapidly (national or international eminence) from unsuccessful
48 becomes among those involved in the successive steps ones (regional excellence), as well as two others
49 of that AIS identification process: more than 95% of (ranked 8 and 9) that least distinguished them. Perse-
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180 F. Gagné

01 verance came well ahead of all others with an average analogically, that we assess the mathematical problem-
02 ranking of 2.79, followed by three almost equally solving skills of students, and then use these scores
03 important factors: aptitudes (3.83), practice (3.89), and to “predict” math achievement on a standardized test.
04 personality (4.04). The three environmental catalysts, Since the students would be using these same skills to
05 as well as chance factors, were judged least important. do the test, we would expect, of course, a high corre-
06 Schader (2001) replicated that methodology with a lation! The situation is exactly the same in the case of
07 large group of U.S. female Olympians, obtaining very Deshaies et al.’s (1979) hockey skill measures; they do
08 similar results. We also got very similar results from not constitute a real “predictor”; their use in that study
09 large samples of musicians and music teachers (Gagné creates a confusion of goals.
10 & Blanchard, 2003), as well as teachers and students in When we look at the study’s methodology, it be-
11 general education (Gagné, Blanchard, & Bégin, 1999). longs to what Embretson (1983) called the “nomoth-
12 Altogether, these results show that a vast majority etic span” perspective. In other words, it tries to ex-
13 of teachers and learners in various fields believe that amine the network of relations between predictors and
14 physical abilities (aptitudes) play as important a role performance criteria. But by including among the pre-
15 in talent emergence as motivation and practice. If dictors a series of variables (hockey skills) that are not
16 giftedness is a myth, as Tesch-Römer (1998) flippantly “real” predictors but just another way of measuring the
17 stated, then that myth has powerful roots! criterion (talent), they switch to the “construct repre-
18 Direct evidence. The scientific literature in sport sentation” perspective, which aims to “identify spe-
19 contains dozens of studies on the predictive effective- cific information-processing components and knowl-
20 ness of physical abilities and/or their anatomical and edge stores needed to perform the tasks set by the test
21 physiological endophenotypes. Régnier et al. (1993) items” (Anastasi & Urbina, 1997, p. 135). As men-
22 surveyed much of the pre-1990s research. They clas- tioned in the preceding section, these two perspectives
23 sified empirical studies into three groups: (a) univari- should not be mixed in the same study. In brief, the bio-
24 ate studies, (b) unidisciplinary multivariate studies, and physical variables would have fared much better if they
25 (c) multidisciplinary multivariate studies. Régnier et al. had not competed “unfairly” with parallel measures of
26 pointed out that, because of their broader coverage of the criterion! Still, they contributed significantly to that
27 potentially relevant causal determinants, studies of the prediction, especially if we consider that the sample in-
28 third type offer much better predictive potential, an ob- cluded players from the Quebec Junior Major Hockey
29 servation that fits perfectly well with the multi-variable League, the last step before the top: the professional
30 framework of the DMGT. Here are two illustrative ex- National Hockey League. Now, here is the second ex-
31 amples from that third category: ample:
Nagle, Morgan, Hellickson, Serfass, and Alexan-
Deshaies, Pargman, and Thiffault (1979) measured 116
33 der (1975) measured 42 wrestlers trying out for the U.S.
hockey players on 6 biophysical variables, 4 specific
34 team of the 1972 Olympic Games on 12 psychological
hockey skills, and 4 psychological variables. Expert
and 9 biophysical variables. A discriminant analysis
35 evaluations of players were used as the performance
between both groups of wrestlers (selected and nonse-
36 criterion. Regression analysis yielded a predictive model
lected) yielded a multiple correlation coefficient of .67
that included 4 variables: anaerobic power, forward
37 for the physiological variables, .73 for the psychological
skating speed, visual perception speed, and motivation.
38 variables, and .92 when both series were combined
Each of the three groups of variables was represented.
(Régnier et al., 1993, p. 293).
39 The model explained 55% of the performance criterion
40 variance, with biophysical variables alone explainingA decade after the Nagle et al. (1975) study, Silva,
17%, psychological variables 20%, and hockey skills
Shultz, Haslam, Martin, and Murray (1985) replicated
33% of the performance variance, respectively (Régnier
et al., 1993, p. 293). its design with very similar results. Note the high level
of competition in that study (as in so many others in
Within the DMGT framework, hockey skills represent sports); all 42 wrestlers were trying out for the U.S.
measures of talent, in the same way that goals scored Olympic team, no less. Yet, within that rarefied world
do. Both belong to the same level of analysis (talent), of ultra-elite athletes, physiological variables—whose
with hockey skills corresponding to process measures hereditary roots have been clearly shown in the preced-
of talent, whereas goals scored or expert evaluations ing section—still played as important a role as the psy-
correspond to outcome or product measures. Imagine, chological variables. The strangest result in that study
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7 Debating Giftedness 181

01 is that such high multiple correlation coefficients could leaves me unimpressed; their use in this study brings
02 be obtained within such a homogeneous sample. back the same critique I made earlier about the De-
03 My last example comes from the best—but least shaies et al. (1979) study, namely a confusing concate-
04 employed—methodological approach to assess the nation of the two distinct validation outlooks identified
05 predictive validity of causal determinants of excellence by Embretson (1983). Second, note again the choice of
06 in sports: longitudinal studies. Very few researchers a very selective sample: all the subjects were already
07 have conducted “real” longitudinal studies that look members of the German national junior teams, thus ex-
08 prospectively at the predictive validity of various cluding at least 99% of all young Germans who played
09 causal determinants of talent in sports. Most of them any level of competitive tennis during that period. So,
10 adopted the more practical retrospective approach, when Schneider mentions that “individual differences
11 like Bloom’s (1985a) or Hemery’s (1986) interview in basic motor abilities were not large,” I would con-
12 studies. In his review of the literature on motor skill sider that “the understatement of the year”! Many suc-
13 acquisition, Seefeldt (1988) found none. Since then, cessive selection steps had no doubt occurred before
14 at least one has been published, a German study these young players, some of them only 10 years old
15 on talent development in tennis (Schneider, Bös, & when first assessed, reached national-level competition
16 Rieder, 1993; Bös & Schneider, 1997). The sample and were included in that research’s sample (among
17 included all the adolescent tennis players (73 boys, 34 them Steffi Graf and Boris Becker; Van Rossum &
18 girls) selected for the national junior teams for a period Gagné, 2005). In spite of that, basic abilities “made a
19 of five successive years (1978–1982). The researchers difference when it came to predicting individual ten-
20 gathered a large set of measures from various domains, nis performances.” Schneider recently confirmed this
21 including motor abilities, specific tennis skills, physi- interpretation: “In my view, the fact that this variable
22 cal, physiological, and psychological characteristics. was still important in predicting the outcome variable
23 The collected data were used to predict international is non-trivial” (Wolfgang Schneider, personal commu-
24 tennis ranking, based on tournament results between nication, March 31, 2007).
25 1985 and 1992. In a concise overview of the study,
26 Schneider (2000) summarized its results as follows:
27 “parents’ support, the amount and intensity of practice, Summary
28 as well as the level of achievement motivation sig-
29 nificantly predicted children’s tennis rankings several As in the preceding section, I first circumscribed
30 years later” (p. 172). He added, however, that the the target concept of (natural) physical ability, with
31 importance of natural motor abilities should not be its outstanding manifestation in physical giftedness.
32 overlooked: The morphological, physiological, and metabolic
One interesting aspect of the causal model estimated and
characteristics defined by Bouchard & Shepard (1994)
tested by Schneider et al. (1993) was that although tennis- were qualitatively distinguished from abilities. But
specific skills and the amount and intensity of practice ac- since these endophenotypes directly impact individual
36 counted for most of the variance in children’s tennis rank- differences in measured abilities and are commonly
ings several years later, the effects of basic motor abil-
ities on tennis performance could not be ignored. That
assessed along with abilities, I judged appropriate to
is, when the basic ability construct was omitted from the include them as relevant predictors of talent in sports.
model, the model no longer fitted the data. Although indi- Two different sources of evidence (Entine, 2000;
40 vidual differences in basic motor abilities were not large MacArthur & North, 2005) were tapped to cover
in this highly selected sample, they made a difference
when it came to predicting individual tennis performance
research on the genetic roots of physical abilities.
(Schneider, 2000, p. 172). In each case, there was more than enough conclu-
sive evidence that individual differences in physical
Note the strange discrepancy between the predictors abilities (and their morphological and physiological
named in the two quotes; only one appears in both. understructures) have genetic roots. That significant
A language barrier prevented a closer examination of genetic endowment creates major constraints in reach-
the two original research papers. This study suggests ing high-performance levels. The theme of constraints
two other comments. First, the causal role of tennis- appeared again and again in the quoted sources. As
specific skills as predictors of international ranking a response to Ericsson et al.’s (2007) conclusion that
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182 F. Gagné

01 except for “fixed genetic factors determining body In the course of debates that can go on for months
02 size and height, we were unable to find evidence for and years, opponents present large quantities of facts as
03 innate constraints to the attainment of elite achieve- evidence or counterevidence. Ideally, members of both
04 ment for healthy individuals” (p. 3), I will end this camps should read all the texts cited—and quoted—
05 summary with a recall of some contrary statements. by their adversaries. That is not always feasible prac-
06 “Most of us could never achieve elite athlete status, tically. Moreover, no one expects non-specialist read-
07 however hard we trained” (MacArthur & North, 2005, ers to have read the cited sources; so they are the ones
08 p. 331). “Don’t expect to see a white man set a world most at risk from any scholarly misconduct. Protago-
09 record in a road race—any race, at any distance from nists and general readers usually accept “as is” the ci-
10 100-meters to the marathon” (Entine, 2000, p. 19). tations and quotes presented by either side, confident
11 “It’s genetically improbable to expect to find any elite that proper scholarship will ensure the objectivity of
12 marathoners coming out of Cameroon, Nigeria, or that information. Of course, researchers on both sides
13 Senegal” (Entine, 2000, p. 249). “The discovery could are aware that divergent positions will make for di-
14 explain why ‘some people train for ages but remain vergent interpretations; but they expect that the facts
15 eighty-pound weaklings, while others develop muscles themselves will be at least reliably reported and that
16 very quickly,’ said the team leader, Dr. Kathryn authors’ positions will not be distorted. Without such
17 North [the same North as in MacArthur & North]” scholarly behavior, the confidence between scientific
18 (Entine, 2000, pp. 254–255). peers, as well as between authors and their readers,
19 would rapidly crumble.
20 Where does this introduction lead me? Readers may
21 have wondered through the first part of this chapter
22 about the reasons for such a huge chasm between the
The Case for Antinat Deliberate two positions discussed; we are not looking here at ar-
24 (Mal)practice guments over shades of gray, but at diametrically op-
25 posed views. Why has there been no progression over
Scientific knowledge grows not only from the accu- the past decade toward some consensual agreement on
mulation of new information but also from the con- basic aspects of the question? In my view, the lack of
frontation of divergent theories. In these intellectual progress in this “dialogue of the deaf” ensues in large
face-offs, evidence and counterevidence accumulate, part from repetitive Antinat behavior that does not re-
one position progressively gains preeminence, then be- spect the basic scholarly rules described above. This is
comes a scientific fact. Its tenets are no longer ques- a very severe judgment about the professional behavior
tioned, albeit sometimes by fringe groups, as is still the of peers, and it demands adequate supportive evidence.
case in the United States with Darwin’s Theory of Evo- This is why I reserved the whole second part of this
lution (Harris & Calvert, 2003; Shermer, 2006). As part chapter for that demonstration. I will analyze a vari-
of that slow process of knowledge acquisition, scien- ety of statements from the two target articles (Ericsson
tists analyze past research to tease out new hypotheses, et al., 2007; Howe et al., 1998) discussed in the first
conduct original studies, and try to interpret their—and part.
others’—findings as objectively as possible. Complete I am well aware that the title adopted for the second
objectivity belongs of course to the realm of utopia; but part uses very strong terms. But, beyond its ironical—
most researchers make an effort to report their own re- and deliberate—distortion of a pet Antinat construct,
sults with appropriate caution, as well as describe other it conveys exactly my conclusion, namely that both
researchers’ studies as faithfully as possible. Cases of groups of Antinat spokespersons are guilty of scholarly
fraudulent behavior sometimes happen, as witnessed misconducts—Webster (1983) defines malpractice as
by Sokal’s famous “hoax” and his subsequent denun- “misconduct or improper practice in any professional
ciation of inappropriate use of physics and math con- or official position” (p. 1091); and these misconducts
structs by some postmodernist thinkers (Koertge, 1998; were in no way impulsive, thoughtless or unreflect-
Sokal & Bricmont, 1998; Sokal & Lingua Franca edi- ing, but intentional and purposeful decisions by their
tors, 2000). Thankfully, major improprieties like these authors. The title should become self-evident as my
are rare. analysis unfolds. My accusations directly target the re-
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7 Debating Giftedness 183

01 searchers who have signed the two Antinat articles dis- the genetics of intelligence (Detterman et al., 1998;
02 cussed in this chapter. But they do indirectly include Gagné, 1998a; Plomin, 1998; Winner, 1998), (b) on
03 all other Antinat researchers who explicitly endorsed early precocity (Winner, 1998), (c) on the genetics of
04 the views of these frontline spokespersons (e.g., Char- learning pace (Rowe, 1998), and (d) on the limited and
05 ness, 1998; Lehmann, 1998; Starkes & Helsen, 1998; transitory impact of early cognitive stimulation with
06 Tesch-Römer, 1998); their almost uncritical support at-risk populations (Gagné, 1998a). Two additional
07 makes them accomplices in the dissemination of the omissions deserve special attention; they concern
08 false ideas resulting from this unacceptable behavior. deliberate decisions made by both Howe et al. (1998)
09 Consequently, I feel comfortable with my occasional and Ericsson et al. (2007).
10 use of general expressions like “Antinat scholarship” The rejection of “exceptional” individuals. Howe
11 when introducing or commenting some examples. et al. (1998) did not completely bypass the subject of
12 This “dissection” of Antinat scholarship will be sub- exceptionally talented behaviors manifested by these
13 divided into two main sections: (a) the opponents’ se- autistic individuals called “savants.” They briefly de-
14 lective choice of “acceptable” debating arenas and re- scribe two examples in visual arts and music. Yet they
15 jection of “unacceptable” ones; (b) their selective cov- rapidly conclude as follows: “Exactly why these chil-
16 erage of the relevant literature, and selective analysis dren could do things that others could not remains
17 and reporting of factual data that contradict their posi- largely a matter for speculation. . .There is no direct
18 tion. evidence that the causes are innate, and if they do
19 have an innate component, its main direct effect may
20 be to augment the individuals’ obsession rather than
21 their specific skills as such” (p. 403). Two commen-
Selective Choice of Debating Arenas tators (Rutter, 1998; Winner, 1998) disagreed strongly
23 with their association of the genetic component with
24 The selective process adopted by Antinat spokesper- obsession rather than with the skills themselves. Rut-
25 sons works in two distinct ways; either they exclude ter pointed out, “The reason for association between
26 phenomena judged relevant by defenders of the main- such skills and the very high genetic component in the
27 stream Pronat position or they give priority status to underlying liability to autism (Bailey et al., 1996) re-
28 themes that Pronats deem either non-controversial or mains unknown, but it is certainly implausible that the
29 irrelevant. skills have been fostered by teaching” (p. 422). For
30 their part, Ericsson et al. (2007) solved the problem of
31 having to deal with the troublesome question of savant
32 Selection by Omission skills by specifying their goal as follows: “Given that
33 we are interested in generalizations for normal, healthy
This section adopts a macroscopic perspective, namely individuals, we will not include evidence from popu-
the deliberate omission of whole research areas. I lations with individuals who have any identified and
will examine later more detailed instances, like the medically recognized deficits” (p. 6). Although their
omission of specific adverse studies, specific coun- decision conveniently pushes aside a very strong piece
terevidence within studies, or specific critiques of of counterevidence, it makes more sense than Howe
their positions. I have already criticized (see DC-4) et al.’s attitude.
Howe et al.’s (1998) controversial decision to include The rejection of testimonial information. Howe
field specificity among the required properties of et al. (1998) describe two types of exceptionally
“innate talent.” That decision allowed them to exclude precocious behaviors: the early mastery of advanced
the most heavily researched natural ability: general language skills and the prodigious achievements of
intelligence. I showed how poorly they had defended many classical music composers. They reject without
their decision, laying the blame on an unsubstantiated hesitation the validity of that information. In the first
reference to “most” people’s definition of “innate case, they state, “In none of these cases was the very
talent.” Other commentators signaled additional early explosion of language skills observed directly
omissions by Howe et al., among them their lack by the investigator, and all the early studies were
of—or very partial—coverage of the literature (a) on retrospective and anecdotal” (p. 401). The second
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184 F. Gagné

01 type of information receives a similar brushing aside: units the learning pace of those thousands of young
02 “The accuracy of such autobiographical reports is violin learners who “screech” their way through years of
Suzuki classes? My own answer is predictably “Yes” to
03 questionable considering that childhood memories of
all these questions (Gagné, 2007, p. 68).
04 the first three years are not at all reliable” (p. 401).
05 Along with two other commentators (Feldman & Concerning their argument that such testimonies are
06 Katzir, 1998; Winner, 1998), I strongly criticized their “not based on reproducible observable evidence,” how
07 decision: can they be? Cloning? Here again, Pronats face another
According to them, information from parents, teachers, irrelevant requirement, just like Howe et al.’s (1998)
09 friends, colleagues, biographers, and even the subjects’ field specificity. The proof of precocious behavior re-
10 own recollections should not be believed. They refuse quires no replication at all, only reliable information,
to discuss such information, even from direct observers. which is the case most of the time. As a way out, both
What would they say of the following example? Dorothy
DeLay, a renowned professor at New York’s Julliard Howe et al. and Ericsson et al. (2007) question the re-
13 School of Music, recalled as follows her first encounter liability of parents’ descriptions of their children’s pre-
14 with the young prodigy Sarah Chang, who subsequently cocious achievements. But who cares about possible
became her pupil. “I think she was six, or perhaps five, errors of a few weeks or months when the behaviors
and she played the Mendelssohn concerto with real
emotional involvement, and I said to myself, ‘I have are advanced by 2 or 3 years! The basic fact remains
17 never seen or heard anything quite like it in my entire that these testimonies are undeniable proof of precoc-
18 life’ ” (Lang 1994, p. 123). Is professor DeLay an ity, sometimes exceptional precocity (Feldman, 1986);
unreliable witness? How can one explain such extreme and that precocity must be explained. Is it just de-
precocity without invoking some form of natural talent?
Examples like these abound; they show ease of learning liberate practice, as Antinats will argue, or are natu-
21 at its most extreme (Gagné, 1998a, p. 416). ral abilities at work, as Pronats will maintain? Based
22 on evidence presented in the last two sections of the
In their rejoinder, Howe et al. (1998) completely ig- first part, it seems clear that children with precocious
nored that critique. But it came back in the second tar- mental or physical development are perfect examples
get article. Citing my Sarah Chang example above, Er- of giftedness’ trademarks: ease and speed in learning.
icsson et al. (2007) argued that “such evidence is not In brief, Antinat spokespersons invoke indefensible ar-
based on reproducible observable performance but on guments to reject testimonial case studies of prodi-
anecdotes that typically cannot be verified and in par- gies or other less extreme cases of exceptionally rapid
ticular replicated under controlled test conditions. Such progress; their allegedly “parsimonious” theory based
evidence is of little value to scientists and will not con- on deliberate practice cannot adequately account for
tribute to sound empirical foundations” (p. 30). Again, that powerful collection of counterevidence.
I reacted to this renewed refusal to acknowledge testi-
monial information:
34 What a strange requirement to ask for controlled repli- Selection by Inclusion
35 cation of publicly known achievements! Here is a short
excerpt from Ms. Chang’s official biography (www. pitts-
burghsymphony.org/pghsymph.nsf/bios/Sarah+Chang): Antinat researchers also evade contrary evidence by re-
“Born in Philadelphia to Korean parents, Sarah orienting the debate toward preferred areas, whether or
38 Chang began her violin studies at age 4 and promptly not they are relevant. Here are three different applica-
enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music, where she
studied with the late Dorothy DeLay. Within a year she
tions of this strategy.
had already performed with several orchestras in the Irrelevant mean effects. Howe et al. (1998) chose
Philadelphia area. Her early auditions, at age 8, for Zubin Ericsson’s “deliberate practice” construct as their pre-
42 Mehta and Riccardo Muti led to immediate engagements ferred causal explanation of the emergence of talented
with the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia
Orchestra.” Here are my questions to Ericsson. 1. Are
performance. To demonstrate that construct’s explana-
these accomplishments “verifiable” facts about her tory significance, Antinats typically show that each
extremely rapid progress? 2. Do her performances at new rung on the talent development ladder requires
46 age 8 qualify as “expert” performance? 3. Do her 8-year on average more deliberate practice than the preceding
old achievements compare favorably with those of most
“expert” adult violinists studied by Ericsson? 4. Is this a
one. They use various samples to illustrate these mean
clear exception to the 10-year rule? 5. And, especially, differences, for instance by comparing novice musi-
does Ms. Chang’s early progress exceed by “galactic” cians to progressively more advanced ones (Ericsson
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7 Debating Giftedness 185

01 et al., 1993). They also buttress the role of deliberate ences on top of mean differences as if these were proofs
02 practice with “the 10-year rule,” which refers to the against natural abilities, they are again sidestepping the
03 minimum time they claim a novice needs to reach elite core of the problem.
04 level in any occupational field. They even show graphs Antinats often mix selective inclusion and omission
05 with progress curves from novice status to expert status in their discourse. For instance, Howe et al. (1998)
06 (e.g., Figure 4 in Ericsson et al., 2007). Antinats argue completely ignored Sternberg’s (1998) central critique
07 that the difference between novice and expert status in their response to the commentators. They mentioned
08 depends more on amount and quality of practice than it as follows: “Sternberg goes further, suggesting that
09 on any other factor. One of the commentators (Stern- much of the evidence for and against talents is merely
10 berg, 1998) focused his critique on that particular type suggestive. He disputes neither our conclusion that
11 of evidence: there is little evidence for the talent account nor our
12 view that no one source of evidence would be defini-
Howe et al. make two main points. The first is uncon-
troversial, the second, unsupported by their evidence or tive” (p. 434). That summary of Sternberg’s comment
14 arguments. The first point is that deliberate practice is completely misrepresents his strong message concern-
15 necessary, or at least extremely desirable, for the devel- ing the lack of relevance of their “proofs.” For one
opment of expertise. Although Howe et al. spend a great thing, by stating that “the only available evidence rel-
deal of space making this point, no one I know would
deny it, so there is not much point to discussing it. . ..The evant to claims about genetic bases of talent are doc-
18 second point is that there is little or no documented evi- umented heritability statistics” Sternberg is directly
19 dence in favor of innate talents. Virtually all the evidence disputing their “view that no one source of evidence
they review is irrelevant to their point, adding bulk but would be definitive.” Moreover, after rejecting most of
no substance to their article. The problem is their misun-
derstanding of what would constitute evidence in favor their evidence, he does not need to dispute their con-
22 of a genetic basis for talents. The only available evidence clusion explicitly: the implicit denial is evident. But
23 relevant to claims about genetic bases of talent are doc- the story does not end there. Ericsson et al. (2007) an-
umented heritability statistics (Sternberg, 1998, pp. 425– nounce at the beginning of their own target article that
25 “throughout our paper we address a number of criti-
Sternberg goes on to explain how mean differences say cisms raised against the expert-performance approach
literally nothing about individual differences, whereas by some theorists of giftedness (Gagné, 2005a; Subot-
the concept of natural abilities is all about individual nik & Jarvin, 2005; Simonton, 2005; Sternberg, 1996;
differences. For instance, it is a well-accepted fact that von Károlyi & Winner, 2005) as well as several com-
the growth of obesity over the past decade has its ori- mentators to the Howe et al.’s (1998) article” (p. 6).
gins in environmental sources. Yet genetic influences Yet they completely ignore that crucial criticism; just
almost totally explain individual differences in weight. like Howe et al., they continue to pile irrelevant mean
In other words, as Sternberg rightly points out, mean effects on top of irrelevant mean effects.
differences cannot solve the nature–nurture question What is missing from both texts is effect size
for any human characteristic; only documented heri- measures: how much of the total variance do the
tability statistics (based on individual difference com- between-group differences account for when com-
parisons) can answer that question relevantly. Inter- pared with the within-group differences. These
estingly, Ericsson et al. (2007) introduce the obesity measures would precisely quantify the explanatory
analogy in reverse to defend the idea that “heritabil- power of deliberate practice. As every scholar readily
ity does not imply immutability or unchangeability” acknowledges, the values would no doubt be signif-
(p. 36), adding that “there are other [than height] char- icant: practice does play an important role in talent
acteristics such as weight and body mass, which have development. But I am also convinced that a large
high heritabilities (Speakman, 2004) yet can be exter- part of the total variance would remain unexplained,
nally controlled by diet and vigorous exercise” (p. 36). that individual differences in amount and quality of
That is exactly Sternberg’s point: the environmental in- practice within each level of performance (e.g., novice,
tervention of exercise and diet for some individuals or intermediate, expert) would remain quite large. Neither
groups does not change the basic fact that, by and large, Howe et al. (1998) nor Ericsson et al. (2007) offer that
individual differences in weight have genetic origins. basic statistical information. In other words, if there
In summary, when Antinats accumulate mean differ- is a “10-year rule,” a concept I will readily endorse
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186 F. Gagné

01 as an average, exceptions abound as witnessed by “whole” truth, often not the most representative part.
02 Lehman’s (1953) seminal work on the precocious rise Each statement needs to be qualified, nuanced, and re-
03 to eminence of individuals from eighty (80) different placed in its proper context. That would require many
04 occupational fields. Evidence for the negative impact more explanations than the original statement, almost
05 of non-gifted natural abilities abounds even more from a “Mission Impossible” within the limited space al-
06 those who never reach elite performance well past the located to journal authors. Here is a typical example
07 “20-year rule!” picked almost at random from Ericsson et al. (2007):
08 Convenient “straw men.” One commentator (Free-
Several theorists of genius and high ability have noted
09 man, 1998) complained that Howe et al. (1998) intro-
some curious findings. The children with the highest abil-
10 duced “straw men,” namely untenable beliefs or po- ities do not grow up to become eminent (for a review
11 sitions that they falsely attribute to Pronat defenders, see Freeman, 2000). Gardner (1993) argued that eminent
12 then easily demolish. Freeman described two of them: individuals often have an unusual developmental history
and individuals with highest ability in the domain were
They write that “some people believe that talent is based unlikely to produce innovations. Lykken (1998) and Si-
on an inborn ability that makes it certain that its posses- monton (1999b) argued that exceptional performance is
15 sor will excel” (sect. 1.1, para. 2). However, in all my not predictable from similarity with other family mem-
16 many years of research in this field I have never heard or bers and thus cannot be accounted for by simple inde-
seen this supposed belief that excellence follows potential pendent genes. Instead they have proposed that the inter-
without the means to develop it. . ..It is widely assumed, action of a unique combination of genes in a supportive
they say, that talent “can be detected in early childhood” environment lead [sic] to emergence of eminence. More
19 (sect. 1, para. 2). However, one might equally well say recent research has shown, however, expert performance
20 that there is a widespread assumption that it is never too is no direct consequence of the same genetic endow-
late to develop unrecognised talent (p. 415). ment and environment. When identical twins engage in
extended practice in the same domain the twins’ perfor-
I mentioned earlier (see DC-3) another example of mance will not always be the same—in some cases it will
straw men, namely Ericsson et al.’s (2007) repetitious differ significantly. For example, Klissouras et al. (2001)
report an instance when one identical twin reached world
allegations that specialists in gifted education present class level whereas the other twin only reached a reliably
high natural abilities (gifts) as appearing suddenly or lower level (p. 40).
abruptly. A fourth straw man targets an alleged Pronat
belief in the unmodifiability of “innate talents.” Here In just half a paragraph, Ericsson et al. (2007) discuss
is a quote from Ericsson et al. (2007) containing both three different subjects that allegedly challenge the
straw men: “We hope that the proponents of innate tal- existence of natural abilities: (a) highly intellectually
ent are challenged to identify any existing evidence gifted individuals do not become eminent nor produce
on suddenly appearing reproducible abilities and other innovations; (b) single genes do not predict exceptional
abilities that are necessary for attaining expert and elite performance, since eminence seems to emerge from
levels of performance, particularly those that cannot be unique combinations of genes; (c) however, even iden-
improved and acquired through training” (p. 45). I em- tical twins’ performances will differ between them. I
phatically denied any substance to the first straw man, believe that these three statements faithfully summa-
while Plomin (1998) rejected the second one. Howe rize the quote. Now let us comment each of them. Hav-
et al. (1998) completely ignored Plomin’s clarification ing not read Freeman’s review, I will assume that Erics-
in their response; and it did not prevent Ericsson et al. son et al. cited her correctly. The first statement attacks
to bring it back a decade later. the predictive validity of IQ measures. The authors de-
Cluttering. This special Antinat muddling strategy scribe a situation in which both the predictor (high in-
consists in accumulating short descriptions of studies tellectual giftedness) and the criterion (eminence) con-
presented as evidence for their position. Few details are stitute very rare phenomena. Within the DMGT, high
given save a statement that tries to link the stated “fact” intellectual giftedness (IQ ≥ 145) corresponds to a ra-
to the paragraph’s line of argumentation. In a proper tio of 1:1000 within the general population. As for em-
scientific context, each mention would require a care- inence, still a fuzzily circumscribed concept (eminence
ful description of the study’s relevance, of all appro- in what?), the only person who dared operationalize
priate data, of methodological and interpretative limits, it was Sir Francis Galton (1892/1962). He established
and so forth. They include none of that. Pronat scholars its prevalence at 1:4000 among adult British males of
know that each statement tells just a small part of the his era. Expecting any level of predictive power within
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7 Debating Giftedness 187

01 such a limited and stratospheric range of values makes regression line, and who thus contribute to lower that
02 no psychometric sense. correlation. In other words, cases like the one reported
03 For one thing, no IQ test can reliably measure in- by Klissouras are not at all surprising. As the proverb
04 dividual differences within that rarefied level of ex- goes, “One swallow doesn’t make a summer.” Let me
05 ceptionality. Moreover, the DMGT shows that talent add two comments about the Klissouras example. First,
06 emerges from the interaction of many predictors; con- what do they mean by “a reliably lower level”? If the
07 sequently, we cannot expect more than a moderate rela- other twin did not reach world class level, but achieved
08 tionship between any one of them and a given criterion at a state or national level, would not that still be an
09 of talent. So, practically speaking, what are the chances exceptional achievement? Second, notice that Ericsson
10 of highly gifted individuals to produce innovations? et al. (2007) supported their position with that same
11 Let us fix at 1:1000 the prevalence of highly intellec- testimonial evidence they reject when Pronat scholars
12 tually gifted individuals within the general population use it!
13 (see DMGT description) and at 1:10,000 the prevalence Looking back at these last paragraphs of comments,
14 of “innovators”—considering that eminence is not as- readers should understand better what I meant by the
15 sociated just with innovation—within that same popu- challenge Pronat scholars face when they encounter
16 lation. Then, even with a perfect correlation between Antinat cluttering. These comments also demonstrate
17 the two variables, only 10% of the highly gifted stand how extensively the quoted excerpt—as do many
18 any chance of producing innovations. That is just basic others!—distorts and caricatures the facts to make
19 statistics. In summary, the lack of a strong association them appear supportive of the Antinat thesis. My
20 between high giftedness and innovation proves abso- comments show that in fact they are not.
21 lutely nothing about the predictive power of general in-
22 telligence.
23 With regard to the second theme, the mention of
24 “simple independent genes” is another of these straw Biased Analysis and Interpretation of Data
25 men I mentioned above, cleverly introduced here to
26 muddle up the discussion. Of course, no single gene This second section focuses on systematic biases found
27 will ever be found that accounts for complex human in Antinat analyses and interpretations of empirical
28 behaviors, especially a complex behavior as fuzzy studies. I separated minor scholarly lapses from more
29 as eminence. Then, they mention (without naming serious ones. I will first present two forms of relatively
30 it) Lykken, McGue, Tellegen, & Bouchard’s (1992) minor bias in the examination of scientific information.
31 fascinating hypothesis of emergenesis, that extremely I chose these two “minor” forms according to a crite-
32 rare configuration—rather than a simple sum—of rion of commonality; it means that they appear occa-
33 genes that could explain the equally very rare occur- sionally in scientific publications. It does not mean that
34 rence of diverse psychological phenomena that do not they cannot be avoided; it only recognizes that the hu-
35 run in families (e.g., genius, inspirational leadership, man mind—and ego—is not always objective in con-
36 exceptional parenting, or rare psychopathological syn- troversial situations. Still, their accumulation in Anti-
37 dromes). They just bring up that construct to confront nat publications leaves me skeptical about the capacity
38 it (they say “however”) with their third theme, the lack of these researchers to maintain proper scientific dis-
39 of perfect parallelism in life outcomes within pairs of tance from their strong ideological beliefs.
40 twins.
41 Concerning that third theme, I will first bring back
42 my earlier argument about the moderate correlation be- Different Admissibility Criteria
43 tween any predictor of talent and any corresponding
44 criterion of performance. Within the DMGT’s frame- One recurring criticism of Howe et al.’s (1998) target
45 work (see Fig. 7.1), identical heredity is just one of article was their tendency to judge more leniently and
46 many predictors of any talent. So, of course, identi- generously studies supporting their position than those
47 cal twins’ performances will not “always” be the same. offering contradictory evidence. Here are a few exam-
48 Moderate correlations leave ample room for outliers, ples of such comments. “Howe et al. demand different
49 individuals whose behavior places them far from the criteria in evaluating studies that yield empirical evi-
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188 F. Gagné

01 dence pro and contra the talent concept. Findings favor- Practice-related physiological changes. Ericsson
02 ing the talent construct are rejected on methodological et al. (2007) devote many pages of their target article
03 grounds. Findings contrary to the talent construct are, to the description of anatomical and physiological
04 on the other hand, readily accepted despite compara- changes in the brain and body produced by months and
05 ble shortcomings” (Heller & Ziegler, 1998, p. 417). “It years of intense training and practice. They describe
06 is difficult to see why retrospective reports about un- some of these anatomical and physiological changes
07 usual musical ability (as in the case of Mozart) or un- as follows: “For example, endurance runners are able
08 usual language skills (as in the case study described by to increase the pumping capacity of blood as a result
09 Fowler, 1981) should be less reliable than reports about of an increased size of the heart. This change emerges
10 the lack of early signs of excellence” (Schneider, 1998, only after years of extended intense practice” (p. 23).
11 pp. 423–424). “Howe et al. criticize others for relying These examples bring them to conclude as follows:
12 on retrospective evidence, yet they rely on biographies “In summary, individual differences in anatomical
13 to claim that the emergence of unusual skills in com- and physiological characteristics that mediate expert
14 posers followed rather than preceded a period of high performance (with the exception of height and body
15 expectations and opportunity” (Winner, 1998, p. 431). size,. . .) appear on the basis of the current evidence to
16 Ericsson et al. (2007) manifest a similar biased lean- be the results of a long series of adaptations induced by
17 ing. Early in their target article, they devote a long biochemical responses to the strain induced by specific
18 section to criticisms of all forms of “evidence” based practice activities” (p. 23). In that whole section, the
19 on subjective judgments (e.g., ratings, interviews, bi- authors never open the door to alternative interpre-
20 ographical information). Yet when that kind of infor- tations, nor to contradictory factual data (selection
21 mation supports their views, they do not hesitate to by omission). They single mindedly focus on adding
22 introduce it. Here are a few examples. “Even biogra- another brick—relevant or not—to the ideological
23 phies of very eminent individuals reveal that these in- edifice of deliberate practice. But does that body of
24 dividuals engaged in immense amounts of practice and knowledge lead unequivocally to their conclusion? I
25 their technique developed over time” (p. 32). “Biogra- do not believe so, and here is why.
26 phies of the few successful prodigies reveal that these First, no one with minimal biological knowledge
27 individuals took measures to ensure that they gained would question the existence of these changes; indeed,
28 the knowledge and experience necessary to perpetu- they would consider them necessary outcomes of in-
29 ate their superiority” (p. 33). “Even studies using the tensive skills training. As specified in an earlier section,
30 subjective method of peer ratings (as we critically re- anatomical and physiological structures constitute bio-
31 viewed in the first section) found no significant Wech- logical underpinnings of observed behavioral abilities,
32 sler IQ differences between a more productive, creative natural and systematically developed. Second, genetic
33 group of female mathematicians as compared to a con- influences target these same biological understructures
34 trol group of other female mathematicians” (p. 38). The to create large individual differences before any sys-
35 last quote is particularly interesting since the authors tematic training has taken place. I demonstrated in the
36 mention their own criticism of that type of information, preceding section the significant heritability of both bi-
37 yet use it to bolster their position! ological endophenotypes and behavioral ability mea-
38 sures (see Bouchard et al., 1997; Entine, 2000, Chap-
39 ter 19; MacArthur & North, 2005). Third, with regard
40 One-Sided Interpretations to the core question, these studies on physiological
41 changes suffer from the same lack of relevance with
Results from empirical studies frequently lend them- which Sternberg (1998) characterized a large part of
selves to diverging interpretations. In such cases, re- the evidence in Howe et al.’s (1998) target article. They
searchers will propose two or three plausible expla- are irrelevant because the data consist of mean changes
nations, weighing each of them carefully in order to over time, whereas natural abilities express themselves
choose the one that best fits the observed data and through individual differences around means. More-
known theories. I found that interpretative caution to over, Ericsson et al. (2007) completely ignore the large
be often absent in these two Antinat publications. Here body of research mentioned above on the presence of
are two examples. important individual differences in these anatomical
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7 Debating Giftedness 189

01 and physiological structures prior to intensive training. The Boucher & Mutimer (1994) study cited in the
02 They also ignore studies showing important individ- quote looked at two distinct populations of ice-hockey
03 ual differences in the pace of progress during inten- players: (a) all the elite players (N = 951) in Nova Sco-
04 sive training, including the fact that these trainability tia (Canada) from Novice to Midget level active during
05 differences have demonstrated genetic roots (Bouchard the 1988–1989 season; (b) all the Canadian-born play-
06 et al., 1997). ers (N = 884) active in the National Hockey League
07 The relative age effect (RAE) in sports. The second (NHL) during the 1988–1989 season. Does that study
08 example concerns a phenomenon commonly called the present ratios of early vs. late birth dates between 3:1
09 relative age effect (RAE); it refers to multiple obser- and 6:1 as claimed by Ericsson et al. (2007)? Depend-
10 vations that elite young (and older) athletes in some ing on the way we examine the data, we can indeed
11 sports are born more often in the first half of the year obtain such ratios. For instance, within the population
12 than in the second. Ericsson et al. (2007) briefly discuss of Nova Scotian players, 14.1% and 2.4% were born
13 the RAE within a long section called A critical review in January and December, respectively. The problem
14 of the proposed evidence for unmodifiable mediating is that such microscopic monthly comparisons carica-
15 mechanisms of expert performance (note the straw man ture the RAE phenomenon by exaggerating its “real”
16 “unmodifiable”); that placement confirms its intended size over the whole year. Indeed, not a single one of
17 role as one more piece of Antinat evidence. Here is an all the scholarly studies I read on this subject cite sin-
18 excerpt from their description: gle month comparisons. They use either ratios based
19 on frequency comparisons between the first six and the
Research on the efforts to identify talents in young ath- last six months of the calendar year (since most co-
21 letes show [sic] that can be changed to “athletes shows hort groupings are based on the calendar year), or quar-
22 that”. the selection is systematically biased by factors un- terly frequencies (e.g., Baxter-Jones, 1995; Boucher &
related to innate talents. For example, professional ath-
23 Mutimer, 1994; Starkes, 2000). In their comprehen-
letes in soccer and ice hockey are born much more fre-
quently (three–six times) in some months of the year than sive review of RAE studies, Musch & Grondin (2001)
25 in others (Boucher & Mutimer, 1994). The factors caus- adopted semester ratios. In other words, comparing in-
26 ing this ‘birth-date’ or ‘relative age’ effect are due to the dividual months is an unscholarly attempt to distort the
grouping of young children together in age cohorts, such
27 real size of the RAE effect in the direction of one’s—
as children born between 1 January and 31 December. At
the age children start participating in sports, this means Antinat—beliefs, especially when the real ratios given
29 that some 6-year olds will be competing with 5-year olds. in the studies are omitted. If we use semester data to
30 Coaches who do not know the children’s birth dates tend describe the Boucher and Mutimer data, we obtain a
to perceive the oldest and most physically mature chil-
31 much more modest 2:1 ratio (65/35 in %) for both the
dren within an age cohort as the most talented. The older
children appearing more talented are given access to bet- Nova Scotian and NHL populations.
33 ter training resources that, in turn, accelerate their de- Having introduced the appropriate statistics,
34 velopment. (. . .) Although it is not yet clear what spe- we now can ask, How do these two 65/35 ratios
cific cues coaches use during this identification process,
35 compare with ratios from other studies? Musch &
the early search for talent has powerful discriminatory ef-
fects when it selectively identifies more mature children Grondin (2001) give the answer in a literature review
37 as being more “innately talented” (Ericsson et al., 2007, that covers 25 studies spanning about 15 years. Their
38 pp. 30–31). summary table presents 59 different ratios (including
39 statements about lack of significant RAE) from 55 dif-
In this excerpt, Ericsson et al. (2007) appear confident ferent populations in 11 sports, but with 37 values from
that they hold an Antinat “trump card.” They describe just two sports: soccer and ice hockey. My tabulation
the RAE as a “systematic bias” whereby coaches “per- of these 59 ratios gave the following distribution: 19%
ceive the most mature children within an age cohort as are below 55/45, thus judged non-significant; another
the most talented.” That bias is powerful; athletes are 29% can be considered small effects (55%–59%). So,
“born much more frequently (three–six times) in some null and small ratios account for almost half (48%)
months of the year.” Consequently, they argue, a selec- of the total. The next 35% can be called moderate
tion process that Pronat advocates present as based on effects (60%–69%), leaving 17% of the ratios (70%+)
“innate talent” is in fact based on physical maturity. Let as strong effects. In 6 of the 11 sports represented
us look more closely at the data behind that statement. (baseball, basketball, cricket, gymnastics, handball,
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190 F. Gagné

01 volleyball), I roughly computed average ratios of That admonition concerns not only the authors’ per-
02 around 55/45; they definitely constrain the generaliza- sonal studies but their reporting of other researchers’
03 tion of the RAE. By and large, the global average for studies.
04 the 59 values included in the table was 60/40, a ratio The MacArthur and North literature review. In the
05 at the transition point between small and moderate section on the genetics of physical abilities I used two
06 effects. Even in the two sports with the largest number literature reviews, MacArthur & North (2005) and En-
07 of indices, average ratios remain below 65%. In other tine (2000). The MacArthur and North review was par-
08 words, this literature review shows the presence of a ticularly useful because it not only surveyed past famil-
09 real, but modest RAE effect in some sports, and its ial studies, including dozens of results from the incom-
10 absence in others. Ericsson et al. (2007) completely parable HERITAGE database, but also described more
11 ignore that well-known and well-received literature recent efforts to identify gene variants directly related
12 review. to individual differences in human physical abilities.
13 In summary, starting with Ericsson et al.’s (2007) Did I find that literature review through normal com-
14 “sensationalist” ratios of 3:1 to 6:1, I first brought them puter searches in bibliographical databases? Not at all.
15 down to 2:1 (65/35) just by using semester ratios from When I analyzed Ericsson et al.’s (2007) manuscript,
16 the Boucher & Mutimer (1994) study they cited. I then I noticed the following statement: “A recent review
17 showed through the Musch & Grondin (2001) litera- (McArthur & North, 2005) found that individual dif-
18 ture review that it could be lowered to a 60/40 aver- ferences in attained elite performance in sports cannot,
19 age ratio over 55 different estimates from 25 differ- at least currently, be explained by differential genetic
20 ent studies. This last estimate confirms the substantial endowment” (p. 37). The cited article came from the
21 significance of the RAE, yet its modest impact on the journal Human Genetics. I was surprised that this type
22 selection process; there is ample room left for physi- of journal would publish an article directly contradict-
23 cal gifts and other catalyst variables identified in the ing a large amount of evidence supporting the heritabil-
24 DMGT (e.g., parental finances, motivation, geographi- ity of physical abilities. When I obtained the original
25 cal access to training facilities) to exert their influence article, I discovered that its content totally contradicted
26 on that process. This more moderate view of the RAE Ericsson et al’s citation. In fact, the contradiction was
27 differs sensibly from Ericsson et al.’s (2007) dramatic so complete, and the review so interesting for my own
28 presentation. But it represents much more faithfully the purpose, that it became a major source of information
29 accumulated results from that body of knowledge. for my section on physical abilities. Let me recall a few
30 statements made by MacArthur & North (2005) in the
31 very first page of their review:
32 Major Lapses Physical fitness is a complex phenotype influenced by a
myriad of environmental and genetic factors, and vari-
The last trio of deliberate malpractices goes well be- ation in human physical performance and athletic abil-
ity has long been recognized as having a strong herita-
yond biases and distortions. In the first two exam- ble component. . ..Recently, the development of technol-
ples, Antinat spokespersons very briefly cite—not even ogy for rapid DNA sequencing and genotyping has al-
quote—articles, extracting from them, totally out of lowed the identification of some of the individual genetic
context, marginal comments that they falsely present variations that contribute to athletic performance. . ..Elite
athletes, viz. athletes who have competed at a national
as a core statement from these authors, whereas the or international level in their chosen sport, represent a
core message says the opposite. The third example is rare convergence of genetic potential and environmen-
even more serious; it involves the selective presenta- tal factors. . ..Most of us could never achieve elite athlete
tion of favorable results from a study, with the deliber- status, however hard we trained. . ..Elite athletic perfor-
mance is a complex fitness phenotype substantially deter-
ate omission of other results contradicting their Antinat mined by genetic potential (p. 331).
thesis. The APA Publication Manual contains in its sec-
tion on the ethics of scientific research a very clear ad- These quotes clearly express the strong hereditary be-
monition: “Errors of omission also are prohibited. Psy- liefs of MacArthur & North (2005). Moreover, the
chologists do not omit troublesome observations from abstract clearly states their goal of reviewing three
their reports so as to present a more convincing story” decades of accumulated positive evidence on the ge-
(American Psychological Association, 2001, p. 348). netic roots of physical abilities. How can professional
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7 Debating Giftedness 191

01 researchers turn upside down the gist of the message devoted to the presentation of evidence supporting
02 in their summary of an article’s content? In no way the extrapolation of normal range heritability data
03 can it be an oversight, since they had to read the ar- to the gifted population. And these results brought
04 ticle very carefully in order to find toward the end the them to conclude “that genetics plays a major role
05 little cautionary sentence on which they based their ci- in the story [of general cognitive abilities], and our
06 tation. Readers will find that sentence included in the DF analysis [DeFries & Fulker’s 1985 technique to
07 last two lines of my own summary of the MacArthur assess group heritability] indicates that high ability is
08 and North literature review. It cautions that “there is strongly heritable” (p. 111). That conclusion directly
09 still no evidence that any of these variants have any contradicts the Howe et al.’s statement attributed
10 substantial predictive value for prospectively identify- to their chapter’s content. Not only do Howe et al.
11 ing potential elite athletes” (p. 336). Read properly, that reproduce totally out of context a statement that
12 short sentence means that no researchers have yet pub- conveys a message totally opposite to the core of the
13 lished prospective longitudinal studies on the predic- text, but, just like Ericsson et al., they deliberately omit
14 tive power of identified gene variants for elite athletic to talk about the evidence that Plomin and Thompson
15 performance. Considering the small number of pub- introduce as proof “that high ability is strongly her-
16 lished studies using that complex methodology, their itable.” What I consider even less acceptable is that
17 absence in such a young field of inquiry should sur- this error was pointed out to them (Gagné, 1998a);
18 prise no one. To repeat myself, the fact that this short yet they chose to ignore it in their rejoinder to the
19 sentence was almost hidden within a whole review of commentators.
20 evidence in favor of “a strong genetic influence on hu- The Kliegl and Baltes studies. In his critique of the
21 man physical performance” (p. 331) clearly demon- Howe et al. (1998) target article, Baltes (1998) called
22 strates that Ericsson et al. (2007) were well aware of attention—very gentlemanly—to the fact that the au-
23 that review’s content. Yet they deliberately decided to thors had completely ignored a major result from one
24 misrepresent its content, not only by presenting that of his studies (Kliegl, Smith, & Baltes, 1990) designed
25 cautionary note as a main message in MacArthur & to test the limits of systematic learning. The follow-
26 North’s (2005) article but, more seriously, by totally ing quote briefly describes the study and then identifies
27 ignoring that review’s incontrovertible evidence on the Howe et al.’s major omission:
28 hereditary bases of physical endophenotypes and phys-
Our focus was on exceptional memory performance, a do-
29 ical abilities. main that is often used as a candidate for exceptional tal-
30 The Thompson and Plomin chapters. This second ent (Baltes & Kliegl, 1992; Kliegl et al., 1990). When
31 example illustrates a misrepresentation by Howe people participated in 36 sessions of intensive and or-
ganized training in a memory technique (the method of
32 et al. (1998) of two well-known chapters (Plomin &
loci) that can be used to reach exceptionally high lev-
33 Thompson, 1993; Thompson & Plomin, 1993) under els of memory performance, all of them benefitted from
34 the direction of Robert Plomin, a foremost scholar in this intervention. If continued beyond 36 sessions (Kliegl
35 behavioral genetics. The two texts overlap one another et al., 1987) people reached levels approaching those of
memory experts. This finding is consistent with those re-
36 substantially. As their titles show, they focus on recent
ported in Howe et al.
37 research (at the time!) aimed at demonstrating that This testing-the-limits work, however, produced an
38 heritability estimates obtained from populations in the equally convincing second finding that highlighted the
39 normal range of IQ scores can be extrapolated to the fundamental significance of individual differences. As
subjects were pushed toward the limits (asymptotes) of
40 intellectually gifted sub-population. In their target arti-
their maximum performance potential, individual differ-
41 cle, Howe et al. (1998) stated, Relatively little is known ences were magnified (Baltes & Kliegl, 1992). The con-
42 about the genetic origins of high-level ability (p. 403), clusion is clear: the talent for being a memory expert re-
43 and cited the Plomin & Thompson (1993) chapter as flects both experiential and individual-differences factors.
In this case, because of the age association and extreme
44 their source. Thompson & Plomin (1993) did indeed
robustness of the individual difference finding, the likeli-
45 introduce a major section, called Quantitative Genetics hood is high that biology based factors are involved (see
46 and High Cognitive Ability, by stating that “much Lindenberger & Baltes, 1995, for further expositions).
47 less is known about the origins of high ability [than Howe et al. make some use of our work, but their in-
terpretation is one sided (sect. 4.1). They select only one
48 about those in the normal range]” (pp. 107–108).
of the two main findings, that is, the finding of major
49 But the rest of that second half of their chapter was training gains for all. The equally compelling evidence of
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192 F. Gagné

01 sizeable individual differences in acquisition curves and strangely. Completely ignoring the contradictory re-
02 maximum performance potential is ignored. Moreover, sults presented, they focused on the last two sentences
they ignore that, contrary to their view (sect. 2.3), the cor-
relation between the skill trained in this testing-the-limits
of the Rowe quote above saying, “as Rowe acknowl-
experiment and a multivariate measure of intelligence was edges, in some instances performance levels after prac-
05 larger at the end of training (Baltes, 1998, p. 408). tice bear little relation to performance prior to practice.
06 This is further evidence against the importance of in-
Rowe (1998) also mentioned a study similar to that of nate differences” (p. 435). Not only did they, again, to-
Baltes & Kliegl (1992) done with twins on the train- tally ignore the core of the critique, but, ignoring also
ing of motor skills (Fox et al., 1996). Here is a brief Rowe’s sensible interpretation of the lack of correlation
summary Rowe made of that study’s main results: between pre- and post-measures (from T. J. Bouchard’s
11 Before training, twins varied widely in their performance personal communication), they blindly interpreted that
12 on the “pursuit rotor” task (i.e., following a target on a ro- phenomenon as Antinat evidence. This reaction shows
tating disk with a pen). The heritability of motor accuracy
13 how entrenched their ideology is.
was about 55%. . .After practice, the worst scoring per-
son scored higher than the best scoring person had before Now, what about Ericsson et al.’s (2007) reaction?
15 practice As individuals differed in their level of improve- It is a well-known fact that Anders Ericsson introduces
16 ment, variability of the accuracy scores also increased in most of his publications his early work on mem-
with training. Before practice, variance (s 2 ) equaled about
17 ory training (Ericsson, Chase, & Faloon, 1980). He
100; after practice, it equaled about 400. The fourfold in-
crease in variance with practice means that practice ac- did so again in the Ericsson et al. target article, to-
19 tually increased the range of individual differences. Her- tally ignoring both studies with a similar testing-the-
20 itability also increased after practice (from h 2 = .55 limit methodology. Even more seriously, he (and his
to .65). Nonetheless, championship rotor pursuit perfor-
21 co-authors) completely ignored the Baltes (1998) and
mance was not very well predicted from initial perfor-
mance (Bouchard, personal communication, 1997). One Rowe (1998) comments clearly mentioning these stud-
23 explanation is that speed is particularly important among ies.
24 highly skilled individuals, and the demand for speed was
not apparent before training (p. 422).

The two studies mentioned by Baltes (1998) and Summary
Rowe (1998) constitute powerful contradictory evi-
dence to Antinat positions. Both of them clearly show I surveyed in the second part a diversified sample of
that intensive skills training—of the testing-the-limits professional misconducts by Antinat spokespersons.
type—does not bring everyone to an identical “expert” They include, among other things, (a) using indefensi-
level. The large individual differences observed at the ble motives to reject major bodies of contradictory ev-
outset of both studies not only reappear at the end idence, like case studies of prodigies, (b) creating car-
of the training, when subjects approach their maxi- icatured beliefs (straw men) that they falsely attribute
mum reachable performance, but show a significant to Pronat defenders, (c) showing unfair leniency and
increase. In the case of the Fox et al. (1996) study, benevolence toward studies that favor their Antinat po-
the range approximately doubles (considering that the sition, (d) extracting from published studies marginal
variance has quadrupled). Neither Howe et al. (1998) comments which, presented out of context, appear to
nor Ericsson et al. (2007) discussed these two crucial show a position opposite to the authors’ main position,
sets of results strongly favoring the Pronat perspective. and (e) selectively choosing from a published study
How did they react? the rare result that supports their thesis, while omit-
Let us look first at Howe et al.’s reaction toward ting to mention other results that strongly contradict
the Baltes comment. Since they had quoted from the that Antinat thesis. The last two examples constitute
Baltes and Klieg’s work the main result that supported serious cases of scholarly malpractice. As noted ear-
their position, it is hard to believe they had not noticed lier, the American Psychological Association formally
the other significant results contradicting their Anti- prohibits the last one in its Publication Manual.
nat thesis. Even worse, the three authors completely Some might argue—as one reviser did—that they
ignored that criticism—as well as the contradictory are not “really” deliberate or purposeful. They just
data—in their rejoinder. Concerning Rowe’s (1998) ensue from the “overzealousness of busy people,
mention of the Fox et al. study, they reacted even more big egos undervaluing alternate viewpoints, deluding
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7 Debating Giftedness 193

01 themselves, and seeing themselves as righteous” of its content would rally a majority of scholars who
02 (Confidential personal communication, April 7, 2007). identify themselves with the basic Pronat thesis: the
03 I must disagree with that interpretation, not because existence of human abilities that (a) have significant
04 the description is wrong, but because these alleged genetic roots and (b) act as building blocks for system-
05 motives do not, in my view, mitigate the deliberateness atically developed competencies in various fields of hu-
06 of their behavior. We are speaking here of internation- man activity.
07 ally renowned researchers with decades of scientific I began addressing the first goal by defining the con-
08 publications in major journals. They have to know the cept of natural ability—and its outstanding manifes-
09 basic rules of their profession. tation as giftedness—around two essential character-
10 Moreover, the deliberateness of their miscon- istics (genetic roots, building blocks of systematically
11 ducts has less to do with the above examples than developed competencies) and four ensuing corollaries
12 with the way these Antinat spokespersons reacted (informal development, field independence, predictive
13 to explicit critiques of their work. I first refer to power, and constraints on competency development).
14 Howe et al.’s (1998) total disregard for the serious The next two sections surveyed available evidence on
15 critiques made by many commentators, especially the genetics and predictive power of the two natural
16 Baltes (1998), Detterman et al. (1998), Plomin (1998), abilities with the largest amount of relevant empiri-
17 Rowe (1998), and Sternberg (1998). They made a fully cal research, namely general intelligence and physi-
18 deliberate decision when they chose to ignore them in cal abilities. I believe that I demonstrated how both
19 their response to the commentators, especially those of them easily meet my six defining criteria for nat-
20 that pointed out unethical behavior. These omissions ural abilities. In other words, they both represent in-
21 are clearly cases of deliberate scholarly malpractice. disputable examples of what Antinat researchers stub-
22 As for Ericsson et al. (2007), the above arguments bornly keep calling “innate talent.”
23 apply equally well to them. First, they made their own As I was writing the first part, I asked myself regu-
24 series of scholarly misconducts. Second, they were larly how Antinat defenders would respond to specific
25 well aware of all the critiques expressed by Howe position statements and pieces of evidence included
26 et al.’s (1998) commentators toward Antinat positions, in the various sections. How, for instance, would they
27 and had even announced at the beginning of their target view my six defining criteria of a natural ability? Do
28 article that they would answer these critiques. They did they represent an acceptable definition? Would they
29 not. For that too, they must share Howe et al.’s respon- agree with my operationalization of the giftedness and
30 sibility. talent concepts in the respective measures proposed?
31 What would they have to say about the definition of
32 general intelligence borrowed from the Mainstream
33 Science on Intelligence (MSOI) declaration? Would
34 Conclusion they agree that IQ test scores represent that concept ad-
35 equately? Would they acknowledge the moderate (.4–
This chapter pursued two main goals: (a) demonstrate .6 in explanatory power) genetic roots of general intel-
that natural abilities—and their outstanding expression ligence? Would they agree with my description of gen-
as gifts—really exist (the mainstream Pronat position) eral intelligence as a moderate predictor of academic
and that recent attacks by researchers who deny their achievement, job performance, and other significant
existence (the Antinat position) can be easily coun- life outcomes? Would they acknowledge that, because
tered with appropriate empirical evidence; (b) expose of the causal relationship between general intelligence
the scholarly misconduct of some Antinat researchers. and the three types of outcomes mentioned above, in-
As an introduction to these two tasks, I briefly de- dividual differences in general intelligence create im-
scribed my Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Tal- portant constraints to real-life achievements?
ent (DMGT), presenting it as my analysis framework, I could add similar questions from my discussion
as well as a lexicon of clearly defined basic terms. of the physical ability domain, especially the genetic
About the first goal. Let me first remind readers that roots of these abilities and their predictive power for
the first part of my chapter did not present “the” Pronat various athletic performances. The responses of Anti-
position. It is one among many. But I believe that most nat defenders to the above questions would contribute
Book Shavinina 9781402061615 Proof2 December 2, 2008

194 F. Gagné

01 to clarify specific areas of disagreement. Readers could still bringing up these straw men even though they have
02 also ask themselves these same questions as a way to been told repeatedly—as I did again in this chapter—
03 assess their level of agreement with my version of a that Pronat scholars have never maintained that natural
04 Pronat position. abilities, even with their significant genetic roots, ap-
05 About the second goal. Two observations influenced pear suddenly or that they are immutable. And to cap
06 my decision to expose the scholarly misconducts of it all they even challenge Pronat defenders to identify
07 Antinat spokespersons. First, I observed that Pronat “any existing evidence” of these imaginary straw men!
08 scholars adopted a general attitude of indifference to- Finally, concerning the third sentence, how can we ever
09 ward these clear cases of deliberate malpractice; no “share a common body of valid reproducible evidence”
10 one appeared motivated to say anything beyond an when Antinat defenders keep either rejecting or ignor-
11 occasional critique of some of their evidence. Sec- ing the evidence Pronat defenders present?
12 ond, I observed that the Antinat message was rapidly
13 spreading internationally through keynotes and high- Acknowledgments I would like to thank very sincerely the ed-
14 exposure publications; I frequently heard from col- itor, Dr. Larisa Shavinina, for her constant support, encouraging
15 leagues and friends that many of their listeners and feedback, and generous delays during the writing of this chapter.
My gratitude also goes to Dr. Larry Coleman, Dr. Jacques For-
16 readers were influenced by the apparent strength of get, and Daniel Viens who offered constructive comments and
17 their arguments. The new frontal attack by Ericsson suggestions on various parts of the manuscript. But I take full
18 et al. (2007) became the straw that broke the camel’s responsibility for any errors in the facts, interpretations, state-
19 back! To paraphrase a well-known Hans Christian An- ments, and judgments expressed throughout the chapter.
20 dersen fairy tale, I judged that the time had come to
21 say loudly, “these researchers have no clothes.” Some
22 will argue that by moving the center of hostilities from
23 evidence confrontation to the more personal domain of References
24 scholarly behavior I have killed any remaining hope
25 for an eventual meeting of minds between the two Accel-team. (2007). Employee motivation: Theory
26 camps. Let us be realistic: the fact that they had to and practice. [On-line]. [Available at: www.accel-
27 resort to such questionable scholarship to justify their team.com/motivation/index.html 07-03-16].
American Psychological Association. (2001). Publication man-
28 Antinat thesis proves their lack of desire for an objec-
ual (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
29 tive examination of scientific evidence. Their avowed Anastasi, A. (1980). Abilities and the measurement of achieve-
30 goal remains to defend their entrenched ideology at all ment. In W. B. Schrader (Ed.), Measuring achievement:
31 costs. That attitude emerges quite clearly in Ericsson Progress over a decade (pp. 1–10). San Francisco: Jossey-
32 et al.’s (2007) concluding remarks:
Anastasi, A., & Urbina, S. (1997). Psychological testing (7th
The progress of science is closely linked to the accu- ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
mulation of base of reproducible evidence. We hope that Angoff, W. H. (1988). The nature-nurture debate, aptitudes, and
35 the proponents of innate talent are challenged to identify group differences. American Psychologist, 41, 713–720.
any existing evidence on suddenly appearing reproducible Atkinson, J. W. (1978). Motivational determinants of intellective
abilities and other abilities that are necessary for attaining performance and cumulative achievement. In J. W. Atkinson
expert and elite levels of performance, particularly those & J. O. Raynor (Eds.), Personality, motivation, and achieve-
that cannot be improved and acquired through training. . .. ment (pp. 221–242). New York : Wiley.
39 The sooner that we can share a common body of valid re- Baltes, P. B. (1998). Testing the limits on the ontogenetic sources
producible evidence the faster our theorizing will develop of talent and excellence. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 21,
to provide a comprehensive account of the fascinating do- 407–408.
main of exceptional performance (p. 45). Baltes, P. B., & Kliegl, R. (1992). Further testing of limits of
42 cognitive plasticity: Negative age differences in a mnemonic
skill are robust. Developmental Psychology, 26, 121–125.
These three short sentences enshrine the irreducible Bartlett, F. (1958). Thinking. New York: Basic Books.
gap between the two opposing camps. First, they keep Baxter-Jones, A. D. G. (1995). Growth and development of
using the expression “innate talent” although they were young athletes: Should competition levels be age-related?
told (Plomin, 1998) that this label misrepresents genet- Sports Medicine, 20, 59–64.
Bloom, B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of educational objectives. Hand-
ically rooted natural abilities. Then, their second sen- book I: cognitive domain. New York: McKay.
tence brings back two of their imaginary Pronat straw Bloom, B. S. (1982). The role of gifts and markers in the devel-
men: sudden appearance and immutability. They are opment of talent. Exceptional children, 48, 510–522.
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02 New York: Ballantine Books. surements. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 20,
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14 Sports & Exercise, 27, 721–729. tation versus nomothetic span. Psychological Bulletin, 93,
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33 Carroll, J. B. (1997). Psychometrics, intelligence, and public per- Feldman, D. H., & Katzir, T. (1998). Natural talents: An argu-
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37 Charness, N. (1998). Explaining exceptional performance: Con- of a motor skill. Nature, 384, 356–358.
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42 plied Physiology, 75, 1822–1827. Gagné, F. (1998b). A proposal for subcategories within the gifted
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01 ternational Handbook for Research on Giftedness and Talent Harris, J. R. (1998). The nurture assumption. New York: Free
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17 R. D. Eckert, & C. A. Little (Eds.), Systems and models for Hemery, D. (1986). The pursuit of sporting excellence: A study
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21 96–98. Hoare, D. (1996, Month). The Australian National Talent Search
22 Gagné, F., & Blanchard, D. (2003). Beliefs of music educa- program. Coaching Focus, 31, 3–4.
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29 concerning the major determinants of talent in sports. Un- Jensen, A. R. (1998). The ‘g’ factor: The science of mental abil-
30 published research report. Montreal : Université du Québec à ity. Westport, CT: Preager.
Montréal, Département de Psychologie. Kipfer, B. A. (1997). The order of things. New York: Random
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33 jor determinants of academic talent. In F. A. Dixon & C. M. process of magnification of age differences during mnemonic
34 Adams, (Eds.), 1999 Research Briefs (pp. 1–16). Washing- training. Developmental Psychology, 26, 894–904.
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Gagné, F., & St Père, F. (2002). When IQ is controlled, does mo- modernist myths about science. New York: Oxford Univer-
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37 Galton, F. (1892/1962). Hereditary genius: An inquiry into its Lazar, I., Darlington, R., Murray, H., Royce, J., & Snipper, A.
38 laws and consequences. New York: Meridian Books. (1982). Lasting effects of early education: A report from
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An editorial with 52 signatories, history, and bibliography. mance suggest large possibilities for improvement of perfor-
45 Intelligence, 24, 13–23. mance without implicating innate capacities. Behavioral and
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49 ican Journal of Psychiatry, 160, 636–645. pp. 1–59). Palo Alto: Consulting Psychologists Press.
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giftedness (2nd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University ences, 21, 430–431.




























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03 Rejoinder to Ericsson et al.’s Postscript











14 This rejoinder follows the six main sections of Erics- ture to “sandwich” any negative comments (the meat)
15 son et al.’s (this volume) postscript. Concerning their between positively worded introductory and closing
16 introduction, I will let readers judge whether or not my comments (the slices). I must confess that I have not
17 chapter incites researchers to move away from a sci- yet mastered the technique. Gallic genetics, lack of de-
18 ence of high ability, as the authors allege. On the other liberate practice, who knows? Still, I will be curious to
19 hand, I believe that my chapter clearly circumscribes look at the ‘meat’ in the 13 other comments to Ericsson
20 a non-imaginary group of adversaries—not enemies— et al.’s (2007) target article.
21 whose core position against the existence of geneti- More seriously, it seems that they were applauded
22 cally influenced “natural” abilities can rightly be la- almost unanimously for having advanced “the empir-
23 beled Antinat. Now, let us move to the heart of their ical foundation of a science of high ability” (p. 146).
24 postscript. The reason for my disagreement with the alleged “en-
25 thusiasm” of the other commentators rests in our very
26 different views of the nature of a “science of high abil-
27 ity.” This difference in views is also, I believe, at the
28 My “Unique” Reactions heart of my alleged misunderstandings and misstate-
29 ments (see the third section of their postscript). To
Ericsson et al. consider my reactions to be “unique” avoid unnecessary repetitions, I will discuss these dif-
among those of premier researchers in the field. The ferences in the third section.
term “reactions” is not particularly illuminating. Ac-
cording to their next sentence, it seems to mean that
I was the only commentator who did not compliment
them on their article. Unfortunately, I have not seen Avoiding Embarrassing Findings
the other comments as I write these lines. Assuming
this were the case, I would invoke two attenuating cir- This second section starts bizarrely. The authors ac-
cumstances. First, when I wrote my short commen- knowledge that, as stated in my chapter, I did not see
tary, I had already accumulated most of the notes that the other comments to their target article before writ-
led to the writing of my chapter, especially its second ing my chapter, as well as this rejoinder. Yet in the very
part. Needless to say I did not feel in a complimentary next sentence they complain that I did not read them
mood! Second, as a French-Canadian raised in Quebec carefully enough! Then, they contest my judgment that
within a French-Canadian community, I had little con- Antinat defenders regularly ignore embarrassing find-
tact with the English-speaking minority until well after ings, in the present case on physical natural abilities
my doctorate studies. Only in my late twenties did I as they manifest themselves differentially in black and
discover a typically British practice in oral and written white athletes. I confess that I have not read the first
communications. An English-speaking colleague and author’s papers cited as their rebuttal. But it is easy to
friend described it as the “sandwich theory.” He ex- imagine what these papers contain: not a single study
plained to me that it was customary in the English cul- in support of physical natural abilities, and everything

L.V. Shavinina (ed.), International Handbook on Giftedness, 199

DOI 10.1007/978-1-4020-6162-2 7,  c Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009
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200 Rejoinder to Ericsson et al.’s Postscript

01 he could find as apparent support for the Antinat po- no specific genetic mechanisms or gene-behavior path-
02 sition. The crux of the problem lies in the extremist ways are implied” (p. 247). Said differently, hundreds
03 position adopted by Antinat researchers. The “nothing of family, twin, and adoption studies have accumulated
04 or else” Antinat thesis leaves absolutely no room for enough evidence to anchor solidly the partial genetic
05 discussion, except, of course, to endorse it or not. In origin of both general intelligence and physical abili-
06 contrast, Pronat defenders recognize the existence and ties. That is the evidence I briefly surveyed in the rele-
07 significant role of both genetic and environmental in- vant sections of my chapter. No less than a decade ago,
08 fluences, as evidenced, for instance, in the DMGT. Dif- a premier scholar in behavioral genetics summarized as
09 ferences in points of view among Pronat scholars lie follows the Pronat vs. Antinat debate:
10 essentially in the relative importance given to nature
That the debate now centers on whether IQ is 50% or
11 and nurture. They are convinced that the Antinat thesis 70% heritable is a remarkable indication of how the
12 of no genetic underpinnings for human abilities makes nature–nurture question has shifted over the past two
13 no sense scientifically. decades. The anti-hereditarian position that there are no
14 To complete this reaction to the authors’ second sec- genetic influences on IQ has crumbled for want of any
empirical data that would support such a radical view
15 tion, I will comment on one specific statement. The au- (McGue, 1997, p. 417).
16 thors state that Entine (2000) “concedes that he knew
17 of no solid evidence for individual genes that could re- In the face of so much positive evidence, it is hard to
18 liably explain the superiority of runners with African understand how Antinat researchers can maintain their
19 ancestry” (p. 146). I briefly pointed out in my chapter entrenched position. It is also hard to understand their
20 (see Cluttering section, p. 186) that the “single gene” popularity among researchers and academics in the so-
21 argument is one of these straw men repeatedly men- cial sciences. Are there so few readers of the scientific
22 tioned in both target articles by Howe et al. (1998) literature?
23 and Ericsson et al. (2007). Allow me to reiterate here
24 a few basic principles from the field of quantitative
25 behavioral genetics. First, human behavior is under-
26 stood to be “highly polygenic and influenced as well My Alleged Misunderstandings
27 by non-genetic factors” (Plomin et al. 1990, p. 247).
28 The term polygenic means that individual behavioral The core of this third section concerns my alleged mis-
29 (phenotypic) differences will eventually be explained understandings and misstatements of their position. Of
30 by the combined influence of many genes, each ac- course I disagree with these judgments, and will show
31 counting for only a small portion of the observed in- why in the following paragraphs. I will examine here
32 dividual differences. In a recent update on the search the two major misunderstandings Ericsson et al. iden-
33 for “IQ genes,” Plomin (2006) stated that “the substan- tify.
34 tial heritability of intelligence is likely to be due not Misunderstanding their focus. They state that I over-
35 to a concatenation of such monogenetic disorders but looked their “extensive discussion earlier in the target
36 to many QTLs [quantitative trait loci, or genes], which article about how the research approach of studying
37 implies that the average effect of these QTLs will be general intelligence and its attempt to predict academic
38 small” (p. 515). And he confirms that not a single gene performance differs from the expert performance ap-
39 has yet been pinpointed with enough replicability to be proach” (p. 146). As my pages of notes would con-
40 placed in a list of contributing QTLs. firm, I certainly did not overlook that discussion. In
41 Should Antinat researchers jump on that informa- fact, that difference in perspective was one of the sub-
42 tion and brandish it as proof for their thesis? Not at jects I wanted to bring up in my chapter. Rereading
43 all. Whether good QTLs are identified next week, in my manuscript with their comment in mind, I realized
44 a year, or only in 10 years changes strictly nothing to that I had forgotten to discuss it in detail, only briefly
45 the strength of the evidence in favor of the heritabil- alluding to it (see pp. 171–172). I must thank Erics-
46 ity of natural abilities. I repeat: strictly nothing! As son et al. (this volume) for giving me an occasion to
47 Plomin et al. 1990 summarized it, “Genetic influence discuss that question in more detail. I intend to show
48 means only that genetic differences among individuals how that difference in perspective—at least as I per-
49 relate to behavioral differences observed among them; ceive it—demonstrates the limited relevance of the ex-
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Rejoinder to Ericsson et al.’s Postscript 201

01 pert performance approach—also called elsewhere the mechanisms) as a learner moves from beginner status
02 “science of high ability”—in the scientific study of tal- to a more advanced level, and eventually to expert
03 ent development. status. That focus on skill transformation clearly
04 My demonstration will use the two validation per- belongs to the construct representation perspective.
05 spectives proposed by Embretson (1983) and briefly In other words, they look at what makes an expert
06 described in my chapter (see pp. 171 and 180); they an expert. They analyze in depth how experts solve
07 are called “construct representation” and “nomothetic problems related to their area of expertise, and they
08 span,” respectively. Recall that the first perspective compare these more complex processes to the simpler
09 aims to “identify specific information-processing com- process skills of beginners or less advanced learners.
10 ponents and knowledge stores needed to perform the The construct representation approach is an attempt
11 tasks set by the test items” (Anastasi & Urbina, 1997, to dissect a construct into its building blocks, or more
12 p. 135). Within that perspective, the researcher looks at basic components. Another example would be efforts
13 the structure of the task itself, at the various developed by researchers to understand the structure of general
14 abilities or skills that operationalize the construct under intelligence by doing factor analyses of various ability
15 study. For instance, when researchers perform factor tests, just as Carroll (1993) did in his seminal study.
16 analyses of test items to determine whether or not they By contrast, my own research perspective with the
17 measure a single construct, they are trying to better DMGT, as well as that of most scholars interested
18 represent their construct. Anastasi & Urbina (1997) in talent development, belongs fully to Embretson’s
19 mention “task decomposition” and “protocol analysis” “nomothetic span” perspective. Here, as defined
20 as two typical procedures belonging to the construct above, the focus shifts toward the analysis of corre-
21 representation approach; they even cite two of Erics- lational and causal relationships between a group of
22 son’s publications (Ericsson, 1987; Ericsson & Simon constructs forming a network, just like they appear in
23 1993) as applications of protocol analysis. The second the figural representation of the DMGT components
24 perspective, “nomothetic span,” is the more traditional (see Fig. 7.1). When scholars ask to what extent some
25 approach to the validation of psychological constructs. variables (e.g., natural abilities, motivation, deliberate
26 It is concerned “with the relations of test performance practice, coaching, parental support) contribute to
27 within a ‘nomothetic network’ of other variables. the emergence of talent, they are working within
28 Such relations are generally investigated through that perspective. Here, talent becomes the dependent
29 correlations of test scores with other measures, which variable in a large network of potential independent—
30 may include criterion performance and other real-life thus explanatory—variables, and the focus is on
31 data” (Anastasi & Urbina, 1997, p. 135). Concurrent understanding which variables best explain individual
32 and predictive validity studies of psychological tests differences on the dependent variable (in this case
33 constitute the “bread and butter” activities associated the level of systematically developed abilities). Si-
34 with that perspective. monton’s (1994) book Greatness represents a perfect
35 How does Embretson’s distinction bear on the example of the nomothetic span approach. Its subtitle
36 present debate? Let us look at Ericsson et al.’s own Who Makes History and Why already announces
37 description of the difference between predictive studies that perspective, especially the “why.” It includes
38 of general intelligence and their expert performance chapters on genetic influences, the drive to succeed,
39 approach. They state that it rests on their focus on the role of creativity, the importance of intelligence or
40 “the measurement of the essence of expertise” and personality, and the significance of psychopathology.
41 on “specifying the mediating mechanisms that can be Each of these constructs is examined as a potential
42 assessed by process-tracing and experimental studies” causal force in the emergence of greatness.
43 (p. 146). Toward the end of that section, they restate Both perspectives are valuable, but none of them can
44 it as a focus on changes in “the structure of mediating answer the questions asked within the other perspec-
45 mechanisms. . .as more complex mechanisms are tive. There is definite value in examining the transfor-
46 acquired and transformed through deliberate practice” mation of skills from novice behavior to expert per-
47 (p. 148). As I understand their description, their formance. Understanding in what ways good problem
48 main interest lies in looking at the evolution of the solvers proceed through difficult tasks, or in what ways
49 structure and complexity of the skills (the mediating expert hockey players differ from less advanced ones,
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202 Rejoinder to Ericsson et al.’s Postscript

01 might help teachers and coaches refine their teaching more I realized the much more selective character of
02 methods. On the other hand, the construct represen- the “expert” concept. Still, how much more selective
03 tation perspective typical of Ericsson’s expert perfor- remained elusive. No clear operational definition ex-
04 mance perspective brings little light to the most fun- ists to my knowledge, and none is given in Ericsson
05 damental question facing talent development schol- et al.’s (2007) target article.
06 ars, namely “why” do some individuals reach exper- The nature of expertise needs to be specified both in
07 tise while most others remain in the average crowd? breadth and in depth. By breadth I mean the diversity
08 Among all the potential causal variables illustrated in of fields in which one can observe experts in action. In
09 the DMGT figure, which have a significant causal ef- the DMGT, the concept of talent refers to outstanding
10 fect on talent emergence? Why is it that among all performances that can be observed in most human oc-
11 those students who enter school only a few will achieve cupations. By depth, I mean the normative intensity of
12 exceptionally throughout their schooling? What made the systematically developed skills necessary to con-
13 the National Hockey League players reach that top fer the expert label. In the DMGT, the depth question
14 level whereas millions of hockey-playing peers never is answered through the metric-based system of five
15 had their dream fulfilled, some of them becoming early progressively more selective levels of excellence, from
16 “road kill” on the way to eminence, while others al- mild to extreme (see p. 159). Some might disagree with
17 most reached the top? Which early characteristics can my operational definitions, but one thing is clear: they
18 we measure that will become effective predictors of are! Concerning the breadth of expertise, how large
19 outstanding achievements at a later date? These are all is the universe of fields of expertise? They state that
20 questions the expert performance approach cannot an- schooling definitely does not belong. Then, they talk
21 swer. about “professional skills.” Does that mean that only
22 But what about the “deliberate practice” construct? professions belong to that universe? Can there be ex-
23 No doubt that it is a potential explanatory factor of tal- pert mechanics, gardeners, plumbers, graphic artists,
24 ent emergence. It appears prominently in my descrip- nurses, teachers? I have not seen any clear answer to
25 tion of the DMGT’s developmental process. The prob- that question.
26 lem with it is that it has been introduced strictly within Assuming that the breadth question has received an
27 the construct representation perspective. That limit was answer, the depth question remains. How good has one
28 pointed out by Sternberg (1998), and I clearly men- to be to be labeled an expert? What percentage of the
29 tioned it in my chapter (see p. 185). Until we have population within any field of expertise would be la-
30 good measures of individual differences in the amount beled an expert? Could it be the top 10%, as is the case
31 of deliberate practice, and until these measures are in- for the minimum threshold within the DMGT’s system
32 troduced as explanatory factors to assess their predic- of levels? Or is it reserved only the top 1%, or even
33 tive power, the deliberate practice concept will remain the top 0.1%? Could there be fewer experts than that?
34 of little use within the nomothetic span perspective. I have yet to see an answer to that question. In their
35 Misunderstanding the expertise domain. The sec- postscript, Ericsson et al. (this volume) use hours of
36 ond point I seem to have misunderstood is the na- deliberate practice to circumscribe the concept. But the
37 ture of a domain of expertise. As proof they note that numbers remain quite vague. On one page, they men-
38 school performance has nothing to do with expertise. tion “the performance attained after 5,000 to 20,000
39 Their allegation invites three comments. The first one hours of deliberate practice” (p. 147); a few paragraphs
40 concerns the prevalence of expertise, a question di- later, the range of practice hours becomes 500–10,000.
41 rectly related to the definition of the concept of ex- We have minimum values differing by a factor of ten,
42 pert (Gagné, 1998b). Who can be labeled an expert, and ranges where the ratio of the top value to the bot-
43 and who should not? From my reading of some of the tom one is either 4:1 or 20:1; not a very enlightening
44 expertise literature, I have found a lack of clarity as to answer! From examples given in their text, my own
45 the exact nature of that concept, not only as a level of guess would be that experts constitute a very selective
46 performance but also as a universe of fields/domains subgroup within a field, like Olympic-level athletes,
47 (see Note 1, p. 157). For some time, I thought that the chess grand masters, and internationally renowned
48 DMGT’s definition of talent overlapped significantly musical soloists. Which brings me to my second
49 with the concept of expert. But the more I read, the comment.
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Rejoinder to Ericsson et al.’s Postscript 203

01 The second comment concerns the scientific im- abilities) and talents (the systematically developed
02 pact of a very selective definition of expertise. I briefly abilities).
03 discussed that problem in my chapter (see Clutter-
04 ing section, p. 186). Such a definition does not pose
05 much problem within a “construct representation” ap-
06 proach. A typical study will gather a small sample of Baltes and Kliegl’s Study
07 these experts within a given field, analyze in detail
08 the nature of their high-level skills by observing them I presented my Baltes and Kliegl critique as involving
09 as they accomplish various tasks—or by using proto- “the selective presentation of favorable results from a
10 col analysis—and compare their problem-solving pro- study, with the deliberate omission of other results con-
11 cesses with those of less advanced individuals, or even tradicting their Antinat thesis” (p. 190); I mentioned
12 beginners. Unfortunately, it is not very well adapted to at the same time an APA policy prohibiting errors of
13 the “nomothetic span” perspective. Why is that? The omission in the presentation of research results. The
14 best predictive validation studies typical of that ap- third paragraph of my quote from Baltes (1998) clearly
15 proach use large samples of individuals who, after be- states that Howe et al.’s (1998) “interpretation is one-
16 ing assessed on a number of “potential” predictors of sided (sect. 4.1),” that they ignore “equally compelling
17 excellence, are followed for some years until they can evidence of sizeable individual differences. . .,” and, fi-
18 again be assessed in terms of their achievements. But nally, that they ignore contradictory evidence in their
19 how can we predict the predictive power of any poten- Section 2.3. That third paragraph seems to me crystal
20 tial causal variable when the target group is such a tiny clear evidence for my charge. I tried to contact Profes-
21 selective population? There might not be even one of sor Baltes to discuss his comment. I discovered that he
22 these future “experts” within the starting sample. So had passed away last year. On the other hand, I cannot
23 the more selective the concept of expert is, the more see the relevance in Ericsson et al.’s (this volume) dis-
24 difficult its prediction will be, even with the best mea- cussion of that study in their postscript. In my view, it
25 sures. completely sidesteps the ethical problem I raised.
26 The third comment concerns the exclusion of
27 schooling as a field of expertise. Allow me to use just
28 one example. Students in middle school have deliber-
29 ately practiced the basic disciplines of language and My Lack of Reproducible Evidence
30 mathematics for much more than the 500 minimum
31 hours required by Ericsson et al. Among them, those I am accused of relying on non-verifiable evidence
32 few in grades 7 or 8 who obtain 600+ SAT scores and on the cited “opinions” of scientists and—yuk!—
33 through Talent Search programs (Lupkowski-Shoplik journalists! It means that all three authors did not see
34 et al., 2003) could be considered “experts” when my references to dozens of scientific studies. They first
35 compared with same age peers. They certainly belong missed references to Plomin’s scientific literature re-
36 to a tiny elite of extremely high math achievers. views on the genetics of that natural ability “par ex-
37 Why cannot they fit within the expert performance cellence” called general intelligence. Neither did they
38 approach? see my mention of several scientific literature reviews
39 When Ericsson et al. close that section of their on the strong predictive relationship between general
40 postscript by admonishing me to restrict my future intelligence and various easily measurable life out-
41 counterexamples to cases involving “highly skilled comes like school achievement, occupational achieve-
42 performance,” I have to request a clearer definition ment, and stable employment. They also did not see my
43 of that concept. Finally, when they point out my summary of Haskins’ (1989) broad scientific literature
44 explicit agreement that “high ability can only be review of the short-term and long-term impact of early
45 attained after much extended deliberate practice,” stimulation programs. In the section on physical abili-
46 I must disagree with their ambiguous terminology. ties, it seems that they jumped directly to the final sum-
47 They should use “high talent” instead of high ability; mary of “punchy” quotes, missing in the process my
48 within the DMGT the term ability is an umbrella extended description of MacArthur & North’s (2005)
49 concept that characterizes both gifts (the natural scientific literature review, replete with citations of em-
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204 Rejoinder to Ericsson et al.’s Postscript

01 pirical studies on the genetics of physical abilities. to avoid any ad hominem attacks. Because that third
02 They also missed a series of quotes taken from Chap- wish clearly targets the second part of my chapter, I
03 ter 19 in Entine’s book where all kinds of empirical— will point out to them that I submitted my completed
04 thus reproducible—studies on genetic differences be- chapter to five outside readers, whose main task was
05 tween black and white athletes are briefly described, to search for ad hominem attacks, namely accusations
06 among them the discovery of a “wimp gene.” They for- that were not supported by clear evidence. All of them
07 got to examine the section where I reviewed a variety gave it a clean bill of—ethical—health.
08 of scientific studies on the predictive power of natural
09 physical abilities with regard to performance in sports.
10 How could they have missed so much? Earlier in their
“My” Postscript
11 postscript, the three authors accused me of not having
12 read carefully enough a series of texts that they knew I
13 had not been given access to. When they affirm that my That is my first and last contribution to this debate.
14 position rests on non-verifiable evidence and opinions, Whatever else Antinat defenders write in the future, I
15 who are the careless readers? Or could it be a case of will no longer respond because, as I said in my chap-
16 “None so blind. . .”? ter, I consider this type of exchange a dialogue among
17 Finally, readers no doubt noticed that Ericsson et al. mutes. From now on, I will focus on building the
18 (this volume) begin that section of their postscript Pronat position, and enriching the DMGT. Still, I hope
19 by using totally out of context my final summary that other scholars in the field of talent development
20 of “punchy” statements on the relevance of physical will keep a close watch for improper Antinat research
21 abilities as “real” natural abilities. They quote it behavior. I also hope that they will put aside the “sand-
22 as “proof” that I rely on non-verifiable opinions to wich theory” to expose it frankly.
23 support my Pronat position, although the text itself
24 includes empirical evidence for all major positions
25 defended. This is one additional example of the Additional References
26 deplorable Antinat habit I described in the second
27 part of my chapter. This recidivism, just after being
Ericsson, K. A. (1987). Theoretical implications from protocol
28 confronted with that type of improper behavior, shows analysis on testing and measurement. In R. R. Ronning, J. A.
29 little inclination on their part to mind their behavior. Glover, J. C. Conoley, & J. C. Witt (Eds.), The influence of
30 cognitive psychology on testing (pp. 191–226). Hillsdale, NJ:
Ericsson, K. A., & Simon, H. A. (1993). Protocol analysis: Ver-
The Guardian Genie’s Three Wishes bal reports as data (rev. ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
33 Lupkowski-Shoplik, A., Benbow, C. P., Assouline, S. G., &
34 Brody, L. E. (2003). Talent searches: Meeting the needs of
35 The three authors will probably be surprised to dis- academically talented youth. In N. Colangelo & G. A. Davis
(Eds.), Handbook of gifted education (3rd ed., pp. 204–218).
36 cover that I endorse almost fully their three wishes.
Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
37 First, I share their hope that not only new researchers McGue, M. (1997). The democracy of the genes. Nature, 388,
38 but all current professionals and scholars involved in 417–418.
39 the field of talent development will peruse the ma- Plomin, R. (2006). Editorial: The quest for quantitative trait loci
associated with intelligence. Intelligence, 34, 513–526.
40 jor texts targeted by the present debate. I am confi-
Plomin, R., DeFries, J. C., & McClearn, G. E. (1990). Behavioral
41 dent that only the strictest Antinat defenders will not genetics: A primer (2nd ed.). New York: Freeman.
42 be swayed toward the Pronat position. Second, trading Simonton, D. K. (1994). Greatness: Who makes history and why.
43 sideswipes, I would slightly reformulate their second New York: Guilford Press.
44 wish as a commitment to the truth, the whole truth,
45 and nothing but the truth. Finally, I endorse the need