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Freakonomics in the Times Magazine: A Star Is Made

The May 7, 2006, Freakonomics column in the New York Times Magazine asks a fundamental — but very hard — question: When someone is very good at a given thing, what is it that actually makes him good?

To find the answer to this question, Dubner and Levitt turn to Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University and the ringleader of what might be called the Expert Performance Movement. Ericsson and his colleagues have spent years trying to figure out how the best pianists, golfers, soccer players, surgeons, writers, stockbrokers, and chess players in the world got so good. How far can talent take you? What role does selection play — and how about practice? Click here to read their article.

The research of Ericsson and his Expert Performance crew has been collected in a forthcoming book, a rather weighty academic reference work called The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance. For a taste, here is a look at the book’s table of contents.

Ericsson himself has studied a vast array of expert performance. Here is a paper of his (co-authored with Linda J. Duffy and Bahman Baluch) on the pursuit of excellence in darts. Here is a working draft of a paper (co-authored with Patric Andersson and Edward T. Cokely) on people who picks stocks for a living. And here is the paper (co-authored with Ralf Th. Krampe and Clemens Tesch-Romer) that gets to the root of what Ericsson thinks is the driver of all expert performance: a concept he calls “deliberate practice.”

The Freakonomics article describes some non-Ericsson work as well, including research on the “relative age effect” in sports like soccer and hockey. Here is one paper on that subject, here is another, and here is a very engaging website that rolls up a lot of research on the subject.

So it seems that only one pressing question remains: when do Ericsson and his pals start studying what makes a good blogger good?