Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Freakonomics thoughts on red-shirting

My kindergarten boy seems to have a terrible memory. He can't remember names of classmates he's known for a year, forgets when his birthday is, or even what he had for lunch two hours ago. Does he just not have a "talent" for memorization?

The Freakonomics authors writing about the work of The Expert Performance movement led by Anders Ericsson, a psychology professor at Florida State University, make me suspect that my boy might be a lot smarter than he may seem. Consider these results from Ericsson's experiments:

Memory ability is not genetically determined. Even somebody with a "bad memory" can, with training, become extremely good.

Soccer stars usually have birthdays at the beginning of the year. Why? Possibly because the age cut-off for team sports rewards kids who are older and bigger. This seems to endorse the practice of "red-shirting", letting a child wait an extra year to start school thus making him more mature, and likely to enjoy the game, more than other kids.

The point is that expertise (in anything -- memorization, soccer, or other things) comes less from pure talent than from focus. If you enjoy something and focus on it, you are more likely to be good at it. If you don't care about birthdays (or people's names), or you know others will remember those things for you, why bother memorizing it yourself?

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