Sunday, June 28, 2020

Dr. Ericsson, professor of psychology who studied how practice leads to excellence, has died

See Professor Studied How Elite Performers Reach the Top: Anders Ericsson of Florida State prescribed a long slog of ‘deliberate practice’ by James Hagerty of The WSJ. Excerpts:

"For anyone who ever wanted to win a marathon, master Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” on the piano or simply lower a golf handicap, Anders Ericsson had encouraging news: You don’t need to be born with a gift.

Dr. Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, argued that sustained practice was far more important than any innate advantages in determining who reaches the top in athletic, artistic and other fields.

That practice, however, couldn’t be mindless repetition. He called for “deliberate practice,” preferably guided by an expert teacher, focused on identifying and correcting weaknesses and monitoring progress. If you were enjoying the practice, it probably wasn’t working."

"His work helped encourage a trend in medical education to put more emphasis on practicing skills and providing feedback to correct lapses, said Graham McMahon, chief executive of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education.

Though parents and teachers preach the importance of practice, many people don’t know how to do it effectively, Dr. Ericsson said. People often practice what they already know how to do rather than trying to master something they can’t yet do.

To improve at chess, he said, it’s more important to study grandmasters’ games than to play a lot of chess.

One problem is that effective forms of practice are hard work and “generally not fun,” his book warned: “If your mind is wandering or you’re relaxed and just having fun, you probably won’t improve.”

Experts learn to cultivate “mental representations,” or an ability to read complicated patterns and react almost instantly, he said. For a quarterback, pulling off that trick is the difference between a completed pass and an interception.

Early in his career, as a postdoctoral researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in the late 1970s, he hired students to train themselves to memorize long strings of digits. The most successful performers discovered ways to break those strings down into memorable chunks that they could store in their brains and then recall in the proper order.

In a recent interview, Dr. Ericsson recalled pressing the students to explain “what actually happened in your head while you were doing this?”

In the late 1980s, he quizzed elite musicians at an academy in Berlin about their practice habits.
Dr. Ericsson saw major advantages in hiring personal trainers. “No matter how many times you watch a demonstration in class or on YouTube, you are still going to miss or misunderstand some subtleties,” he and Mr. Pool wrote in “Peak.”

Zach Hambrick, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University, agreed with Dr. Ericsson that practice is vital in developing expertise. But Dr. Hambrick said other factors—including personality traits and intellectual abilities—may also play important roles in determining who comes out on top."

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