kitchen table math, the sequel: Naturals and strivers

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Naturals and strivers

To understand how talent and achievement are perceived, three experiments compared the assessments of “naturals” and “strivers." Professional musicians learned about two pianists, equal in achievement but who varied in the source of achievement: the “natural” with early evidence of high innate ability, versus the “striver” with early evidence of high motivation and perseverance (Experiment 1). Although musicians reported the strong belief that strivers will achieve over naturals, their preferences and beliefs showed the reverse pattern: they judged the natural performer to be more talented, more likely to succeed, and more hirable than the striver. In Experiment 2, this “naturalness bias” was observed again in experts but not in nonexperts, and replicated in a between-subjects design in Experiment 3. Together, these experiments show a bias favoring naturals over strivers even when the achievement is equal, and a dissociation between stated beliefs about achievement and actual choices in expert decision-makers.

Naturals and strivers: Preferences and beliefs about sources of achievement
Chia-Jung Tsay, Mahzarin R. Banaji Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 47 (2011) 460–465
I wonder why this is?

Why would experts hold the bias (while believing they hold the opposite bias) while nonexperts don't?

Is this likely to be specific to the music world? (I have no idea.)


TerriW said...

I'd be curious to see if the polled experts thought of themselves as naturals or strivers.

allison said...

Because the experts can tell the difference, while the rest of us who are novices or journeymen in a field can't.

And I assume we have just an awful lot of stop-thoughts to avoid thought crime these days. Admitting to a belief that the innately more talented have a structural advantage, or are better, is dangerously close to admitting to something you might be called racist or sexist for. Better to constantly affirm aloud and to ourselves that effort matters more.

lgm said...

Strivers are more mechanical, less fluid and at ease with the subject. They don't have that air of being comfortable and enjoying and playing with the subject.

Anonymous said...

"...they judged the natural performer to be more talented, more likely to succeed..."

There may be a bit of a terminology problem. If the folks answering the questions used "talented" to mean "naturally talented" and "skilled" to mean "has learned the stuff," then the natural performers *ARE* more talented. Not more skilled, but with more innate talent.

Drawing an analogy with the sports world, you can broadly consider that most athletes have a given natural talent level that sets an upper limit on what they can accomplish (excluding drugs and such ...) and a given amount of personal grit/drive whatever.

You will find that professional baseball teams are *VERY* interested in up-and-coming players with fantastic natural gifts and favor those players over up-and-coming players with the same basic skill level but fewer natural gifts.

This *seems* a bit irrational at first. Why should the team care *HOW* a given player got to a certain batting average? Or why should a team care *HOW* a given pitcher got the opposing batters out(*)?

It turns out that the professional teams know what they are doing (mostly). The players with fantastic natural ability and a lacking work ethic can, sometimes, be convinced to start working hard as they get closer to the professional level (sometimes this is simply a question of maturing...). The players with the great work ethic cannot be convinced to go find more natural talent.

The upshot is that if you are looking for folks in the top 500 or so IN THE WORLD, a lack of great natural talent is very hard to overcome. Too many other folks have that talent and enough of them will also work hard.

Things are quite different at the lower levels (which include college sports ...). The kids with talent who know that they have talent can fail to practice and still play well, but the kids without talent can stay competitive by working harder. That is what most of us see.

As you climb the ladder (towards major league baseball or trying to play in the San Francisco Symphony or whatever), the folks without talent eventually hit a lower ceiling than the folks with talent. Not *ALL* the folks with talent use it, but enough do ...

-Mark Roulo

(*) A concrete example: If you have a high school pitcher that can throw 100 MPH, but can't get anyone out (because he has no control and can't throw strikes), teams will draft him and spend years trying to teach him control. Control is considered teachable. A high school pitcher who pitches only 80 MPH and gets tons of people out will be considered uninteresting ... 80 MPH isn't enough for Major League Baseball and teaching him to throw 90 MPH is much tougher. The 80 MPH pitcher may get it up to 90 MPH in college, at which point the pros will care. But they'll still probably take a pitcher that can throw 100 MPH over the guy who can throw 90.

I'm assuming that there are equivalent tradeoffs for things like music and math.

cranberry said...

It helps to read the study, which really did test the influence of BELIEF on perception.

The study participants listened to recordings of THE SAME PROFESSIONAL PIANIST. Recording A and Recording B were played by the same pianist, thus there was no difference in degrees of naturallness/strivingness (if that's a word) from pianist to pianist.

The study exposes the ingrained bias on the part of the trained musicians to favor the "natural" over the "striver." In this case, the participants without musical training were more accurate observers.

Jen said...

Cranberry has hit it on the head for those above who argue that one is more "fluid" or natural or something in playing. The point is the difference in assumptions about musicians of the same ability.

However, that said, I think people have the idea that the strivers may have peaked, that is they, through hard work, have achieved the top of their performance level.

The naturals on the other hand, not having worked as hard, practiced as long, been as motivated, are seen as still having the potential to reach even greater heights with just a little more work.

Now, why they haven't already achieved those greater heights is one question and another question is if they do have the "natural" ability the strivers have to really dedicate themselves in that way!