How much do genes matter?

What does it take become an expert in something? Is it a matter of completing 10,000 hours of practice? Or is it all in our genes?

(I'm 5'8", but could I dunk if I practiced hard enough?)

Scientists and philosophers have been debating the importance of nature vs. nurture for centuries. And today, a tangential debate rages on: To what extent are our abilities affected by practice? And to what extent do genes matter?

The Economist earlier this week reported on a new study showing that having the right genetic makeup does indeed matter in terms of one's ability to build expertise in music -- though practice does matter as well!

On the flip side, Annie Murphy Paul debunks the 10,000-hour myth here, saying elite level expertise might come for some people after far more than 10,000 hours of practice, and for others it might require far less.

And we've repeatedly reported on the research by Dr. Carol Dweck into "mindsets," showing that the human brain changes throughout our lives and we have the ability to build expertise through hard, strategic work.

So, what does this mean for students trying to learn math or become better readers?

Fortunately, we all don't have to be able to dunk a basketball to survive. But we could all be better basketball players with practice! Same goes for math and reading. No matter our starting points, we can always improve.

Photo: joshme17