Practice Doesn't Always Make Perfect, Study Suggests

With chess players, other variables -- like memory, high IQ -- might separate the good from the great

SATURDAY, Oct. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Practice is an essential part of gaining excellence in a specific skill, but to become truly great other qualities must come into play, such as IQ or working memory, according to researchers who studied how practice affects the success of chess players.

For the study, published in the October issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science, the researchers also considered earlier research and noted that practicing harder or longer doesn't compensate for the lack of other important traits relevant to a certain activity.

The study authors pointed out that there is a theory that people will do better in areas such as sports, music and chess if they practice more.

"But the thing is, of the people that achieved the master level, there are people that achieved it in 3,000 hours. Other people did, like, 30,000 hours and achieved the same level. And there are even people that practiced more than 30,000 hours and didn't achieve this," Guillermo Campitelli, a researcher at Edith Cowan University in Joondalup, Australia, said in a news release from the Association for Psychological Science.

In reviewing previous research on how practice affects musicians, Campitelli and his colleague noted that musicians who are better at sight-reading have better working memory, or the ability to keep relevant pieces of information active in their minds.

When it comes to chess, however, the qualities that help some players become the best have not yet been identified, although the researchers suggested that the top chess players may have a higher IQ than the general population.

The investigators also found that 82 percent of adult chess players are right-handed, compared with 90 percent of the general population. They suggested this could signal a discrepancy in brain development that enhances spatial skills in some people, allowing them to excel at chess.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about how the brain works.

Mary Elizabeth Dallas SOURCE: Association for Psychological Science, news release, Oct. 24, 2011

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