Nature or nurture? Heredity or environment?

Discuss anything you like about chess related matters in this forum.

David Robertson
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Re: Nature or nurture? Heredity or environment?

Post by David Robertson » Wed Apr 01, 2015 9:56 pm

Of one thing, we can be absolutely certain: Malcolm Gladwell's thesis (10,000 hours) is twaddle. It has been booted around the park by academic research. Yet it retains a hold on the poorly-read and the simple-minded presumably because it is comforting: "I could be great, but I can't be ar$ed".

Truth is - for music, athletics, swimming, and chess - practice on its own only takes you so far; and often, not very far. We poorly understand how chess ability occurs. But I'd bet good money that it involves specific and uncommon neurological features; ditto high ability in music, and mathematics. Not all these neurological features need be wired-up at birth. And not all need to be co-terminus with 'intelligence', as that term is commonly understood.

The brain is highly plastic until the early 20s, so early (or very early) development and training could indeed have an impact. Alas, that impact might not be good: high proficiency at, say chess, might come at the expense of deficiencies elsewhere. No harm can come from a balanced programme of intellectual stimuli, as in a normal childhood. But I would never submit a child to an intensive diet of chess development for fear that neurological growth might be disturbed to a non-trivial degree.

[note: I have read Gladwell, and Syed, and much more by academics. Hence, I am intelligently informed. But I am not a neurologist or similar]

Brian Towers
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Re: Nature or nurture? Heredity or environment?

Post by Brian Towers » Wed Apr 01, 2015 10:22 pm

Mike, what makes you think this isn't the BBC's idea of an April fool's joke? The article is clearly delusional and full of (deliberately?) provocative nonsense.

Nobody in their right mind would suggest that you could take an unco-ordinated 24 year old computer geek and turn him into one of the country's top 250 footballer players on an hour's training a day for a year so why should the same be true of table tennis? An hour a day of physical conditioning for a year wouldn't even get the geek into the physical shape required for football at that level never mind developing the necessary skill.

This quote:
Why did the project fail? One reason might be that Ben chose the wrong sport.

"It is probably the most difficult sport to pick for this challenge," says Steve Brunskill, head coach at the Swerve Table Tennis Centre in Middlesbrough
is clearly meant to be provocative. Of course one can think of some sports where this might be possible - ski jumping and the example of Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards springs to mind and, well actually I can't think of anything else - but this would be the exception rather than the rule.
Ah, but I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now.

Mike Truran
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Re: Nature or nurture? Heredity or environment?

Post by Mike Truran » Wed Apr 01, 2015 10:32 pm

Brian

No idea, and you may be right for all I know. I suspect though that if it had been an April Fool joke Sam may have got a little higher than somewhere off the top 250 and "nowhere near the standard of the top under-11 player in the UK."

And does it matter anyway? The subject in itself is an interesting one.

Mike

"The article is clearly delusional and full of (deliberately?) provocative nonsense". So unlike all the other reporting on the BBC. :lol:

David Robertson
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Re: Nature or nurture? Heredity or environment?

Post by David Robertson » Wed Apr 01, 2015 11:07 pm

Well, you've got me started on a favourite subject about which I can be deliciously provocative and shibboleth-shattering. I've just turned up the key journal article from 2014 which you can read, or even download. One caution though: it's a full-on academic paper, so not the breeziest of reads. Nevertheless, the early paras scope the literature; and the closing paras sum things up. Result? Deliberative practice accounts for 26% of performance variation in games; 21% in music; and 18% in sports. The rest is 'other factors' including, of course, natural endowments.

HERE is a key academic meta-analysis

Roger de Coverly
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Re: Nature or nurture? Heredity or environment?

Post by Roger de Coverly » Thu Apr 02, 2015 1:13 am

David Robertson wrote: Truth is - for music, athletics, swimming, and chess - practice on its own only takes you so far; and often, not very far.
Ratings and grades are reasonably objective, so for any given standard, you have to be able to score 50% against players of the targeted grade, score 60% against those 10 ECF points lower and 40% against those 10 points higher. If you play players of a radically different standard, you need to score 90% against those 40 lower and at least 10% against those 40 points higher.

There was a TV show where IM Max Deveraux had to convince footballers that he was a genuine coach or manager. Looking the other way, what would a football manager have to do to convince chess players that his advice was of value?

My personal experience is that rather than chess being a aid to academic study, that it was the other way round. It wasn't until I applied the techniques that I had needed for A levels and later university, that I got relatively good at chess.

Alan Kennedy
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Re: Nature or nurture? Heredity or environment?

Post by Alan Kennedy » Thu Apr 02, 2015 4:26 am

The was an interesting study by Dr Merim Bilalic who showed that practice was more of an important factor than intelligence. http://www.frontiersin.org/profile/publ ... s/22642362.

Clive Blackburn

Re: Nature or nurture? Heredity or environment?

Post by Clive Blackburn » Thu Apr 02, 2015 9:11 am

David Robertson wrote: The brain is highly plastic until the early 20s, so early (or very early) development and training could indeed have an impact. Alas, that impact might not be good: high proficiency at, say chess, might come at the expense of deficiencies elsewhere. No harm can come from a balanced programme of intellectual stimuli, as in a normal childhood.
Polgar seemed to prove that it can be done. Admittedly his daughters were all intelligent to start with but there is no reason to assume that they would have become strong chess players without his training programme. Also, I haven't seen any evidence of their progress in chess being at the expense of deficiencies elsewhere in their lives.
Roger de Coverly wrote: There was a TV show where IM Max Deveraux had to convince footballers that he was a genuine coach or manager. Looking the other way, what would a football manager have to do to convince chess players that his advice was of value?
I think that a good football manager or coach could help a lot by motivating the player and working on his psychological approach to the game, he wouldn't need to be particularly good at chess to do that.

MartinCarpenter
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Re: Nature or nurture? Heredity or environment?

Post by MartinCarpenter » Thu Apr 02, 2015 9:57 am

The Polgar's did all still get to rather different playing strengths.

Have to say I do pity the people putting that paper together. Evaluating 9k abstracts, then ~3k papers just to find under a hundred genuinely usable ones? Ouch.

Brian Towers
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Re: Nature or nurture? Heredity or environment?

Post by Brian Towers » Thu Apr 02, 2015 10:01 am

Alan Kennedy wrote:The was an interesting study by Dr Merim Bilalic who showed that practice was more of an important factor than intelligence. http://www.frontiersin.org/profile/publ ... s/22642362.
Having read this tabloid-style article I'm not sure it is saying that.

The study looked at 57 chess playing children. There was no control group, no comparison with non-chess playing children and there is an almost complete lack of any meaningful numbers (means, standard deviations, correlation coefficients) that would be required to make this anything close to an academic study.
Although practice had the most influence on chess skill, intelligence explained some variance even after the inclusion of practice. When an elite subsample of 23 children was tested, it turned out that intelligence was not a significant factor in chess skill, and that, if anything, it tended to correlate negatively with chess skill. This unexpected result is explained by a negative correlation between intelligence and practice in the elite subsample
So, the most intelligent in the elite group were lazy and the (slightly?, massively? - we aren't told) less intelligent were hard working (how much more diligent?) and were better chess players (how much better?).

From experience I would suggest that you need a certain minimum (above average) IQ to be a good chess player but that above that level having a much higher IQ doesn't necessarily make much difference. The big problem with IQ scores as they are usually bandied about is that there are different components, not all of them relevant to chess.

From the way better players than me seem to "see" the board, the pieces and their relations to each other much better than me I would guess that visual-spatial ability is the key factor. Anecdotally (which is to say I can't quote any academic studies) visual-spatial ability is correlated with left-handedness, higher levels of testosterone in the womb and proficiency at certain sports and professions like architecture, tennis-playing, cricket, etc.

A study looking at the correlation between chess strength and handedness (left, right and different degrees of ambidextrous) would be fascinating. Well, it would if it showed that left handed and ambidextrous players perform better on average than right handers ;-)
Ah, but I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now.

Alan Kennedy
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Re: Nature or nurture? Heredity or environment?

Post by Alan Kennedy » Fri Apr 03, 2015 10:37 am

Brian I am not sure a control group was needed as it correlated results in various puzzles (as a measure of chess skill) with practice undertaken and IQ. If you want more detail no doubt Merim would be able to provide it. http://wwwg.uni-klu.ac.at/psy/index.php ... =i&xid=249 gives his contact details. I remember helping him with the research (at the time I was chairman of Witney chess club) and he visited schools round the county including Bletchingdon (where my wife taught and I used to help in the chess club). One of the six year olds who attended the chess club at Bletchindon was Marcus Harvey. I can only presume Marcus practiced a lot! Anyway at the end of 3 years Merim wrote up a 400 page PhD thesis on the subject (hardly a tabloid article). His supervisor was Peter McLeod of Oxford City and Oxford University http://www.ecfgrading.org.uk/new/player ... de=259162F. Merim was a real help to Oxfordshire chess coaching not only Marcus but also the MCS chess team and several other promising juniors round the county.

Arshad Ali
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Re: Nature or nurture? Heredity or environment?

Post by Arshad Ali » Fri Apr 03, 2015 10:56 pm

Some people pick up chess/math/programming effortlessly, some have to work hard for limited success. We all know this, I think(?). Nature is a big component -- though it may not be captured by the IQ test.

Alan Kennedy
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Re: Nature or nurture? Heredity or environment?

Post by Alan Kennedy » Sat Apr 04, 2015 5:35 pm

The point was Arshad that Merim's study showed practice was a bigger component.

Arshad Ali
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Re: Nature or nurture? Heredity or environment?

Post by Arshad Ali » Sat Apr 04, 2015 7:02 pm

Alan Kennedy wrote:The point was Arshad that Merim's study showed practice was a bigger component.
Um, dunno about that. He's showing that IQ test results are not correlated with chess prowess. That doesn't mean practice is a bigger component. It could be that the "chess gene" is not amenable to measurement by the IQ test and that the absence of this native ability will mean practice will yield limited results. I'm reminded of the depiction of a tournament game between two young chess players in Sir Anthony Glyn's novel, "The Dragon Variation": on the one hand an English boy who has been studying chess furiously for years (but is devoid of real aptitude) and on the other an Iranian natural, who instinctively knows where the pieces belong and who can drum up an attack out of nowhere (but who has no interest in the game).

Speaking for myself, I'm a lifelong chess mediocrity. I score in the top 1% of IQ tests (low 140s) but I'll never make it into the top 1% of rated players (only the top 10%). I don't have the chess gene.

Alan Kennedy
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Re: Nature or nurture? Heredity or environment?

Post by Alan Kennedy » Sun Apr 05, 2015 2:33 am

Arshad

I think the synoposis of Merim's research does it better justice than me:

The present study investigated the chess skill of 57 young chess players using measures of intelligence (WISC 111), practice, and experience. Although practice had the most influence on chess skill, intelligence explained some variance even after the inclusion of practice. When an elite subsample of 23 children was tested, it turned out that intelligence was not a significant factor in chess skill, and that, if anything, it tended to correlate negatively with chess skill. This unexpected result is explained by a negative correlation between intelligence and practice in the elite subsample. The study demonstrates the dangers of focusing on a single factor in complex real-world situations where a number of closely interconnected factors operate.

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