(p. D7) Anders Ericsson, a cognitive psychologist who demystified how expertise is acquired, suggesting that anyone can become a grand chess master, a concert violinist or an Olympic athlete with the proper training and the will, died on June 17 at his home in Tallahassee, Fla.
. . .
Professor Ericsson discovered that what separated the violinists’ skill levels was not natural-born talent but the hours of practice they had logged since childhood. The future teachers registered around 4,000 hours, the very good violinists 8,000 and the elite performers more than 10,000. The same study was conducted with pianists, with similar results.
Published in 1993 in Psychological Review, the paper later formed the basis for the so-called 10,000-hour rule described in Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling “Outliers” (2008), which holds that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a skill or field.
. . .
“Many people think what Anders discovered is that quantity of practice makes you a champion,” said Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Grit” (2016), a book about passion and perseverance. “That’s disastrously incomplete. It’s quantity and quality. One of his insights that I hope will have a lasting legacy is people need to work hard, but also smart.”
Professor Ericsson focused on what he called “deliberate practice,” which entails immediate feedback, clear goals and focus on technique. According to his research, the lack of deliberate practice explained why so many people reach only basic proficiency at something, whether it be a sport, pastime or profession, without ever attaining elite status. A Sunday golfer may whack balls around the course for years, but without incorporating such methods that player will never become the next Tiger Woods.
. . .
He had his critics. One of them, Zachary Hambrick, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University, co-wrote a paper in 2014 that concluded that deliberate practice was not the sole reason for peak performance in chess players and musicians. Innate characteristics like talent and intelligence, Mr. Hambrick argued, play a far more significant role than Professor Ericsson allowed for.
“There’s a side of me that resonates with his hopeful message,” said Scott Barry Kaufman, a humanistic psychologist who studies creativity and hosts “The Psychology Podcast.” “However, there’s another side of me that has seen the research, in a wide range of aspects in the field, that suggests that we can have some pretty severe limits on what we can achieve in life.”
Nevertheless, Mr. Kaufman added, “I don’t think any of this invalidates his contributions. He showed that humans have the capacity to go beyond, from one generation to the next, what had been thought of the limits of human potential.”
For the full obituary see:
Steven Kurutz. “Anders Ericsson, 72, Psychologist Who Became ‘Expert on Experts,’ Dies.” The New York Times (Monday, July 6, 2020): D7.
(Note: ellipses added, italics in original.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated July 4, 2018, and has the title “Anders Ericsson, Psychologist and ‘Expert on Experts,’ Dies at 72.”)
Anders Ericsson explained his views on peak performance in his co-authored book:
Ericsson, Anders, and Robert Pool. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.