Academic journal article Journal of Multidisciplinary Research

The Development of Expertise in Performance: The Role of Memory, Knowledge, Learning, and Practice

Academic journal article Journal of Multidisciplinary Research

The Development of Expertise in Performance: The Role of Memory, Knowledge, Learning, and Practice

Article excerpt


The purpose of this review is to discuss the development of expertise. Initially it was thought experts were born with particular capabilities or giftedness for excellence. However, though some believe our genetic characteristics provide a potential for excellence, the strongest evidence points to the experiences one engages in for determining the potential of developing expertise. This article will provide some historical context for this born-versus-made debate as well as review key research identifying the role of memory, knowledge and its organization, learning, and practice in the development of expert levels of performance.

Keywords: expertise, expert, expert performance, learning, knowledge, memory, practice


Are expert performers born or made? Researchers throughout the years have investigated whether we are born with innate abilities that determine our capability of becoming experts or if we can develop potential and expertise. This question has intrigued not only researchers and academics but also the mainstream population. For example, books such as Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, Geoff Colvin's Talent is Overrated, David Epstein's The Sports Gene, Matthew Syed's Bounce, and Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code examine and discuss this notion of what expertise is and how it develops. The desire to uncover what it takes to become an expert level performer fuels this debate and the obsession surrounding it

The Beginning: Experts are Bom, Not Made

Sir Francis Galton (1869) was one of the first individuals to investigate and comment on expertise. In his examination of Great Britain history, he found prominent individuals were members of a very small number of families. This led him to the conclusion that innate factors are responsible for outstanding achievement. His belief in the importance of genetics and hereditary contributions was so strong that he began a new field of hereditary improvement (i.e., eugenics), opened a laboratory in which he tested individuals on their mental and physical abilities, and through his work in the laboratory aimed to create a superior population of people (Forrest, 1974). Other researchers have followed suit and come to similar conclusions regarding the importance of what one is born with on their potential for becoming an expert. For example, according to Gardner (2004), talented individuals have a biopsychological potential in a specific domain. Further, Eysenck (1995) was a strong proponent of the importance of a genetic basis as a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for the emergence of giftedness.

Proponents of the innate talent perspective believe that excelling in a given domain is the result of a natural ability (i.e., genetic endowment) that is evident in early childhood (Howe, Davidson, & Sloboda, 1998). Bloom (1985) set out to investigate giftedness and critical factors that contribute to the development of talented performers in many domains (e.g., music, sport, and mathematics). Surprisingly to those who believe in the power of innate talent, his research found no evidence for any particular genetic factors that could have predicted the success of the performers he investigated. He wrote the following.

the study has provided strong evidence that no matter what the initial characteristics (or gifts) of the individuals, unless there is a long and intensive process of encouragement, nurturance, education, and training, the individuals will not attain extreme levels of capability in these particular fields. (Bloom, 1985, p. 3)

His findings challenged the notion that hereditary factors (i.e., innate talent or giftedness) were necessary preconditions for the development of expertise.

Further, Howe and colleagues (1998) provided significant evidence to contradict the theory of innate talent. First, the evidence supporting the notion that talent is visible in early childhood consists mostly of retrospective reports and records from parents. …

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