Practice Practice Practice, but Pick Your Parents TooI continue to have an eye out for evidence that those who claim that virtually all top experts, in whatever field, have arrived at their advanced capabilities through deliberate practice are overstating the potential for any dedicated individual to achieve a comparable level of expertise.
An earlier post discussed how Williams syndrome provides some evidence of a significant role for inborn factors in development of musical expertise.
Now, a brief item in the April/May 2009 issue of Scientific American Mind talks about recent evidence of a genetic basis for acquisition of advanced motor skills, i.e., the sorts of skills top athletes require.
Janine Reis, a German researcher working at the National Institutes of Health, led a study whose results indicate that slight variations in the structure of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) affect people's ability to learn new motor skills. The item's author, Roberta Friedman, reports that BDNF "is a key driver of synaptic plasticity, the ability of the connections between brain cells to change in strength. This plasticity is an important factor in learning ..."
The study looked specifically at differences in the degree of success volunteers had in learning how to vary the tightness of their grip on a handle controlling a computer cursor as it moved through a sequence of targets. Volunteers who had one type of BDNF learned faster and performed better than those with an alternate form of BDNF, who "never reached the skill level acquired by the faster learners."
What this says to me is that those who never get as good at golf as Tiger Woods, despite dedicated deliberate practice, are probably coming up against a physical limit on their attainable skill level.