Child prodigy

Child prodigy
Israeli conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, age 11, with Conductor Moshe Lustig and the Gadna Symphonic orchestra 1953

A child prodigy is someone who, at an early age, masters one or more skills far beyond his or her level of maturity.[1] One criterion for classifying prodigies is: a prodigy is a child, typically younger than 18 years old, who is performing at the level of a highly trained adult in a very demanding field of endeavour.[1][2]

The giftedness of prodigies is determined by the degree of their talent relative to their ages. Examples of particularly extreme prodigies could include Mozart in music, Paul Morphy or Judit Polgar in chess, Isaac Newton, Carl Friedrich Gauss, Srinivasa Ramanujan and John von Neumann in mathematics, Pablo Picasso in art, and Saul Kripke in philosophy. [3] There is controversy as to at what age and standard to use in the definition of a prodigy.

The term Wunderkind (from German: "wonder child") is sometimes used as a synonym for prodigy, particularly in media accounts, although this term is discouraged in scientific literature. Wunderkind also is used to recognize those who achieve success and acclaim early in their adult careers, such as Steven Spielberg, Steve Jobs, Matthew Doherty, and Fred Goodwin.


Memory capacity of prodigies

PET scans performed on several mathematics prodigies[4] have suggested thinking in terms of long-term working memory (LTWM). This memory, specific to a field of expertise, is capable of holding relevant information for extended periods, usually hours. For example, experienced waiters have been found to hold the orders of up to twenty customers in their heads while they serve them, but perform only as well as an average person in number-sequence recognition. The PET scans also answer questions about which specific areas of the brain associate themselves with manipulating numbers.[4]

One subject never excelled as a child in mathematics, but he taught himself algorithms and tricks for calculatory speed, becoming capable of extremely complex mental math. His brain, compared to six other controls, was studied using the PET scan, revealing separate areas of his brain that he manipulated to solve the complex problems. Some of the areas that he and presumably prodigies use are brain sectors dealing in visual and spatial memory, as well as visual mental imagery. Other areas of the brain showed use by the subject, including a sector of the brain generally related to childlike "finger counting," probably used in his mind to relate numbers to the visual cortex.[4]

Working Memory/Cerebellum Theory of Child Prodigies

Noting that the cerebellum acts to streamline the speed and efficiency of all thought processes, Vandervert[5] explained the abilities of prodigies in terms of the collaboration of working memory and the cognitive functions of the cerebellum. Citing extensive imaging evidence, Vandervert first proposed this approach in two publications which appeared in 2003. In addition to imaging evidence, Vandervert's approach is supported by the substantial award winning studies of the cerebellum by Masao Ito.[6]

Vandervert[7] provided extensive argument that, in the prodigy, the transition from visual-spatial working memory to other forms of thought (language, art, mathematics) is accelerated by the unique emotional disposition of the prodigy and the cognitive functions of the cerebellum. According to Vandervert, in the emotion-driven prodigy (commonly observed as a "rage to master") the cerebellum accelerates the streamlining of the efficiencies of working memory in its manipulation and decomposition/re-composition of visual-spatial content into language acquisition and into linguistic, mathematical, and artist.

Nature versus nurture in the development of the prodigy

Some researchers believe that prodigious talent tends to arise as a result of the innate talent of the child, and the energetic and emotional investment that the child ventures. Others believe that the environment plays the dominant role, many times in obvious ways.[citation needed]

For example, László Polgár set out to raise his children to be chess players, and all three of his daughters went on to become world-class players (two of whom are grandmasters), emphasizing the potency a child's environment can have in determining the pursuits toward which a child's energy will be directed, and showing that an incredible amount of skill can be developed through suitable training.[8]

But on the other hand George Frideric Handel was an example of the natural talent .... "he had discovered such a strong propensity to Music, that his father who always intended him for the study of the Civil Law, had reason to be alarmed. He strictly forbade him to meddle with any musical instrument but Handel found means to get a little clavichord privately convey'd to a room at the top of the house. To this room he constantly stole when the family was asleep".[4] At an early age Handel became a skillful performer on the harpsichord and pipe organ and later went on to compose music which is listened to this day.

See also

Further reading

  • Ito, M. (2005). Bases and implications of learning in the cerebellum—Adaptive control and internal model mechanism. In C.I. DeZeeuw & F. Cicirata (Eds.), Creating coordination in the cerebellum: Progress in brain research (Vol. 148, pp. 95–109). Oxford, England: Elsevier.
  • Ito, M. (2007). On "How working memory and the cerebellum collaborate to produce creativity and innovation" by L.R. Vandervert, P.H. Schimpf, and H. Liu. Creativity Research Journal, 19, 35-38.
  • Robinson, Andrew (2010). Sudden Genius?: The Gradual Path to Creative Breakthroughs. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-956995-3. Lay summary (24 November 2010). 
  • Vandervert, L. (2007). Cognitive functions of the cerebellum explain how Ericsson's deliberate practice produces giftedness. High Ability Studies, 18, 89-92.
  • Vandervert, L. (2009b). Working memory, the cognitive functions of the cerebellum and the child prodigy. In L. Shavinina (Ed.), The International Handbook on Giftedness (pp. 295–316). Netherlands: Springer.
  • Vandervert, L. (2009a). The appearance of the child prodigy 10,000 years ago: An evolutionary and developmental explanation. The Journal of Mind and Behavior, 30, 15-32.


  1. ^ a b Rose, Lacey (2007-03-02). "Whiz Kids". Forbes. Retrieved 2009-06-07. 
  2. ^ Feldman, David H: "Child Prodigies: A Distinctive Form of Giftedness", National Association for Gifted Children, Gifted Children Quarterly., 1993, 37(4): 188-193.
  3. ^ Charles McGrath (2006-01-28). "Philosopher, 65, Lectures Not About 'What Am I?' but 'What Is I?'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-01-23. 
  4. ^ a b c What makes a prodigy? By Brian Butterworth. nature neuroscience • volume 4 no 1 • january 2001
  5. ^ Vandervert 2007, 2009a, 2009b
  6. ^ Ito 2005, 2007
  7. ^ Vandervert 2009a
  8. ^ Queen takes all -, January 2002

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • child prodigy — noun a prodigy whose talents are recognized at an early age Mozart was a child prodigy • Syn: ↑infant prodigy, ↑wonder child • Hypernyms: ↑prodigy, ↑child, ↑kid, ↑youngster, ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

  • child prodigy — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms child prodigy : singular child prodigy plural child prodigies a child who is extremely skilful at something that usually only adults can do …   English dictionary

  • child prodigy — child genius, very intelligent child …   English contemporary dictionary

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  • prodigy — I (New American Roget s College Thesaurus) n. phenomenon; wonder, marvel, miracle; monster; curiosity, sight, spectacle; precocious child, child prodigy, boy or girl wonder, wiz kid (inf.). See unconformity, skill. II (Roget s IV) n. 1. [A… …   English dictionary for students

  • Prodigy — NOTOC Prodigy may refer to: * Child prodigy, an individual who is a master of one or more skills or arts at an early age In music * The Prodigy, a British electronic music group ** Moog Prodigy, the synthesiser from which the group got its name * …   Wikipedia

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