Did Mozart Have Help?

Child prodigies are made, not born, according to a new study that attributesexceptional ability at an early age to parental encouragement and exposure, rather than to genes or a natural "gift."

Not that achieving prodigy status is easy, notes John Sloboda, Ph.D., a psychologist at the University of Keele, in England, and the study's lead researcher. "It takes someone who is strongly motivated, self-confident, and well-taught, with good attending skills, plenty of practice,and strong commitment," Sloboda says. But given these circumstances, "the majority of intelligent young people are capable of gaining very high levels of expertise in their choose area."

Still, there are some abilities, like perfect pitch, that evironmental stimulation can't explain. Sloboda acknowledges that some people may be genetically predisposed to certain talents, and that parental encouragement and personal effort builds on this already firm genetic based. But he emphasize the potential harm of prematurely classifying children as gifted or talented: those who are excluded early on may never achieve all that they are capable of.

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For parent who want to turn out a Mozart or a Tiger woods of their own, Sloboda notes that kids' peak learning years are from four to seven, and it's then that they are most receptive to instruction. It's not only the cultivation of a specific skill that matters in these years, he adds, but also the establishment of the right habits, including discipline, attentiveness, and motivation.

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