Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Innate talents: Reality or myth?

Michael J. A. Howe a1, Jane W. Davidson a2 and John A. Sloboda a3
a1 Department of Psychology, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4QG, England
a2 Department of Music, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S10 2TN, England
a3 Department of Psychology, Keele University, Keele, Staffordshire ST5 5BG, England


Talents that selectively facilitate the acquisition of high levels of skill are said to be present in some children but not others. The evidence for this includes biological correlates of specific abilities, certain rare abilities in autistic savants, and the seemingly spontaneous emergence of exceptional abilities in young children, but there is also contrary evidence indicating an absence of early precursors of high skill levels. An analysis of positive and negative evidence and arguments suggests that differences in early experiences, preferences, opportunities, habits, training, and practice are the real determinants of excellence.

Key Words: exceptional ability; expertise; gift; innate capacity; music; potential; prodigy; specific ability; talent.