Are world-class athletes born or raised?

Please note: As of October 2015, this course site is no longer active. For an overview of this course, please see the instructor’s reflection page.

Maybe you’ve heard of the 10,000 hour rule, popularized by author Malcom Gladwell. This controversial idea throws the concept of “natural talent” out the window, and posits that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert. In anything.

This brings us to the framing question for this 1-creditChild Superstar course: Are world-class athletes born or raised? Are some people successful because they have natural talent, while others are successful because they work hard and have put in their 10,000 hours? Can hard work help people overcome their basic biology to become super-athletes? How would you go about answering these questions? The primary goal of this course is to expose students to the ways scientists try to disentangle genetic and environmental influences on human behavior.

Course materials will include a variety of formats including selected chapters from popular books including Epstein’s New York Times bestseller The Sports Gene, scientific articles, podcasts, and videos. Students will use blogs and social media to record their reactions to course materials, and will use these tools to further interact with one another and the instructor. Click to find out more about the course structure and grading criteria.

Course instructor: Jessica Salvatore, PhD (

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