Talent or hard work? Which one do we really prefer?

Researchers have since put this to the test.

Talent or hard work? Which one do we really prefer?
Source: Pexels/Michael Burrows

The backstory: So, there’s this phenomenon called “naturalness biases,” whereby we tend to value and reward innate talent over hard work. Why? Well, it’s because we humans tend to have a preference for things (skills, capabilities) that we think are natural rather than skills that required a lot of effort, time and energy to build and hone.

Malcolm Gladwell put it pretty concisely when he explained in a presentation in 2002 that, based on his observations, “On some fundamental level, we believe that the closer something is to its original state, the less altered or adulterated it is, the more desirable it is.” As a consequence of this, when you have someone who’s had to work really hard to achieve something, then they’ve essentially gone against their nature and so would be respected less.

The development: Researchers have since put this to the test. Chia-Jung Tsay, an associate professor at University College London School of Management, conducted a few experiments in different areas and found it to be somewhat true. And in fact, the bias is developed quite young. For example, two groups of participants listened to the same 20-second clip of a pianist but were led to believe that the clip was performed by two different artists. One group was told that the pianist had innate talent, and the other group was told that their pianist’s performance was due to their dedication to practice. And, even though they listened to the same pianist and the same track, the pianist with the said “innate talent” was rated higher.

In entrepreneurship, Tsay found that people would rate an entrepreneur’s business proposals higher if the entrepreneur’s pitch had a few sentences depicting natural talent. In fact, the participants in this study were willing to invest in entrepreneurs with IQ scores, less leadership experience and less capital just because of these non-conscious naturalness biases.

So, with all this said, the smartest solution is to not focus too much on either innate talent or hard work but provide a more nuanced description when talking about yourself to other people. On top of that, just be more mindful of these biases when you perceive yourself and others.

Key comments:  

“Both talent and effort are considered essential sources of achievement, but past research suggests a preference for people who appear to achieve through talent. This research examined the potential naturalness preference in 306 Chinese children (Mage: 6.12 years; 164 girls) and 352 adults (Mage: 19.87 years; 182 women) in 2019. In Study 1, participants evaluated a natural or striver protagonist of equal achievement. Children attributed greater competence and warmth to naturals than strivers; adults exhibited this preference only when attributing competence. In Study 2, participants indicated their behavioral preferences between the two protagonists. Children, but not adults, interacted more with naturals than strivers. These findings indicate the naturalness preference emerges early (ds ≥ .27) but declines in strength over time,” wrote the report.

“A preference for “naturals” over “strivers” in performance judgments was investigated to test whether the effect is generalizable across domains, as well as to ascertain any costs imposed on decision quality by favoring naturals. Despite being presented with entrepreneurs equal in achievement, participants judged the natural and his business proposal to be superior to the striver and his proposal on multiple dimensions of performance and success (Study 1a and Study 1b). These findings were extended in Study 2, which quantified the costs of the naturalness bias using conjoint analysis to measure specific decision tradeoffs. Together, these three studies show that people tend to pass over better-qualified individuals in favor of apparent naturals,” according to the report.