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Reflection on Anders Ericsson’s 10,000-hour study and obituary: An online discussion

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On June 17, 2020, the psychological science community said goodbye to Anders Ericsson, who history will remember as the researcher who found that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. Sort of.

Ericsson, Ralf Kampe, and Clemens Tesch-Römer (1993) recruited 30 student violinists (“best,” “good,” and “music teachers”). I admit to wincing at the label “music teachers” for the least-skilled group. They wrote, “We call the students from the department of music education the ‘music teachers’ because teaching is the most likely future profession for this group.” [I had to remind myself that teaching is a skill unto itself, just not the skill they were after in this particularly study.] All 30 participants had at least 10 years of violin-playing experience, so there were no novices in the group. The students kept a diary for one week. The “best” and “good” violinists practiced an average of 24.3 hours that week. The “music teachers” practiced 9.3 hours.

Where does the 10,000 hours of practice come from? Ericsson et al. asked the violinists to estimate “the average number of hours of practice alone with the violin per week for each year since they had started playing the violin.” By multiplying the number of hours per week by 52 weeks, they calculated an estimate of number of hours of practice for each year. And then they added up the yearly totals. By the age of 20, the “best” and “good” students had accumulated 10,000 hours of practice. Because they were concerned that the music academy they had been attending for the last two years would artificially inflate the number of hours of practice, they dialed back the age to 18. How many hours of practice had the violinists accumulated by age 18? The “best” students had 7,410 hours of practice. The “good students” had 5,301 hours of practice. The “music teachers” had a mere 3,420 hours of practice. For comparison, Ericsson et al. asked 10 middle-aged, accomplished, professional violinists to estimate the number of hours they practiced each week for each year they played the violin up to age 18. They estimated 7,336 hours, virtually identical to the “best” students.

A follow-up study with pianists found similar results. By age 18, the “best” pianists had amassed an estimated 7,606 hours of practice. By age 20, the total was over 10,000 hours.

Ericsson et al. emphasized that it’s not just quantity of practice, but quality of practice. “[W]e argue that the differences between expert performers and normal adults reflect a life-long period of deliberate effort to improve” (Ericsson et al., 1993, p. 400). Experts have deliberately worked to improve their skills. They have not simply done the same—potentially wrong—thing hour after hour. “Does practice make perfect? ‘Practice makes perfect’—only if the practice is perfect” (Bennett, 1923, p. 49).

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If you would like to make this an online discussion, provide the above information to your students (edit at will). While the link below goes to the NYTimes.com, consider linking to his obituary through your library’s database in case your students have exceeded the maximum number of free NYTimes.com articles for the month.

Initial post

Read Dr. Anders Ericsson’s obituary in the New York Times.

Part A. Quote

Find a quote from the obituary that you found interesting and in 100+ words of reflection, explain why. Be sure to use quotation marks for your quote; the quotation is not part of the 100+ word count.

Part B. 10,000 hours (100+ words)     

Having read Ericsson’s obituary and the information provided above, would you say that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to make someone an expert? Why or why not? How you would define “expert.” For example, when would you say that someone is an expert? Do think it matters at what point in life the hours of practice happens? Why or why not?

Part C. Question

If you had had the opportunity to ask Anders Ericsson a question, what would it have been? In 50+ words, explain why chose that question.

Responses

Please respond to the initial discussion posts written by at least two of your classmates.

Part A. In 50+ words, respond to the quote chosen with at least two of the following:

  • A compliment, e.g., "I like how... because...," I like that... because..."
  • A comment, e.g., "I agree that... because...," "I disagree that... because..."
  • A connection, e.g., "I have also thought that...," "That reminds me of..."
  • A question, e.g., "I wonder why...," "I wonder how..." 

Part B. In 50+ words, respond to the 10,000-hour reflection with at least two of the following:

  • A compliment, e.g., "I like how... because...," I like that... because..."
  • A comment, e.g., "I agree that... because...," "I disagree that... because..."
  • A connection, e.g., "I have also thought that...," "That reminds me of..."
  • A question, e.g., "I wonder why...," "I wonder how..." 

Part C. In 50+ words, provide your reaction to the question to Ericsson in the initial post. Use at least two of the following:

  • A compliment, e.g., "I like how... because...," I like that... because..."
  • A comment, e.g., "I agree that... because...," "I disagree that... because..."
  • A connection, e.g., "I have also thought that...," "That reminds me of..."
  • A question, e.g., "I wonder why...," "I wonder how..." 

 

References

Bennett, H. (1923). Psychology and Self-Development. Ginn and Company.

Ericsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Romer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363–406. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.100.3.363

About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology in community colleges since 1992, and has been at Highline College in the Seattle area since 2001. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award . She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed.