Beyond born versus made: A new look at expertise

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Title

Psychology of Learning and Motivation



Place of Publication

Cambridge, MA


Brian, H.R.


School of Arts and Humanities




Hambrick, D., Macnamara, B., Campitelli, G., Ullen, F., & Mosing, M. (2016). Beyond born versus made: A new look at expertise. In Brian, H.R. (Ed). Psychology of Learning and Motivation (pp. 1-55). Cambridge, MA: Academic Press. Available here.


Why are some people so much more successful than other people in music, sports, games, business, and other complex domains? This question is the subject of one of psychology’s oldest debates. Over 20 years ago, Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Römer (1993) proposed that individual differences in performance in domains such as these largely reflect accumulated amount of “deliberate practice.” More controversially, making exceptions only for height and body size, Ericsson et al. explicitly rejected any direct role for innate factors (“talent”) in the attainment of expert performance. This view has since become the dominant theoretical account of expertise and has filtered into the popular imagination through books such as Malcolm Gladwell’s (2008) Outliers. Nevertheless, as we discuss in this chapter, evidence from recent research converges on the conclusion that this view is not defensible. Recent meta-analyses have demonstrated that although deliberate practice accounts for a sizeable proportion of the variance in performance in complex domains, it consistently leaves an even larger proportion of the variance unexplained and potentially explainable by other factors. In light of this evidence, we offer a “new look” at expertise that takes into account a wide range of factors.



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