NeuroNation \ Intelligence and IQ, Mind and Brain

Child prodigies: the mystery behind their genius minds

While most of us struggle making it through school or at least through some of the more complex subjects like mathematics, there are child prodigies like Mozart who enchant the world with their brilliant talents. While mesmerized by them for obvious reasons, we also ask ourselves: how can a ten-year-old have skills a normal person will never obtain in a lifetime, no matter how hard they try?

Scientists have of course for many years examined what makes a child prodigy. Two groups of scientists have formed from these studies, and both groups have developed their own theory.

What is a child prodigy?

A child prodigy is either highly intelligent or naturally talented in one or multiple fields. For example, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a child prodigy who started to compose music at the age of five. Scientists aren’t sure yet if being a child prodigy comes from their genetics or is simply formed through a good upbringing.

Nature versus Nurture

The first group of researchers believes that prodigies possess a gentic specialty, whereas the other group is of the opinion that it is due to their family environment and social background that these children become such geniuses. This nature versus nurture dilemma is exemplified by two famous prodigies: Carl Gauss, one of the most influential mathematicians in history, came from a humble upbringing, while Mozart, on the other hand, came from a priviledged background and was given early childhood private lessons, which might explain why he grew to greatness.

Intelligence, Working Memory or Perhaps Autism?

More recently, science has started to examine the factors that may lead to excellence. Could it be general intelligence, working memory (which is a part of intelligence), or a type of autism (Asperger’s syndrome)? Indeed, previous studies have found that individuals diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome are often highly talented. To examine the features of child prodigies, scientists Joanne Ruthsatz and Jourdan Urbach interviewed 8 child prodigies who excelled in art, math or music. To test intelligence, the children were given Stanford-Binet IQ tests [1].

A higher IQ

As expected, these genius children were found to have IQ scores greater than the general population – 128 compared to the population average of 100. One child was only slightly above the population average with a score of 108. Overall, it can be said that child prodigies are indeed intelligent, but not as intelligent as we would have expected. Furthermore, in terms of autism, the highly talented prodgies do not differ significantly from the rest of the population.

The Difference Lies in Working Memory

When analyzing the working memories of the prodigies, scientists came across an amazing result. Each of the eight prodigies had a working memory which put them in the top 1% of the population and each of them made it to the top 99th percentile in terms of working memory capacity.
Our working memory is important for a number of tasks in our everyday life – its main task is to memorize and store information and keep several pieces of information at once in our head. Learn new things, make logical decisions and recall pieces of information which we’ve stored away in our memories – all of these are tasks our working memory masters. A typical situation in which we need our working memory is when someone tells us a phone number but we don’t have anything to write it down on so we have to keep it in mind for a little while until we find a pen and a piece of paper. Our working memory capacities are highly correlated with our intelligence.

The good news: you can improve your working memory

ECU in Perth, Australia

While most of us are too old to become child prodigies, we can still improve our working memories through training. It has been shown that brain training, as offered by NeuroNation, can improve working memory performance permanently and significantly. In other words, the ability to learn is not set in stone, but can be improved by targeted training designed specifically for you.

NeuroNation brain exercises are based on the latest scientific findings to give you the best training you can find. It is designed to adapt to your personal needs and your individual performance. No other brain training company invests so much time in developing brain training with such strong scientific background. Research from the Free University Berlin, the Technical University Dortmund and Edith Cowan University in Australia make up the basis of our training. We are currently involved in several other collaborations to continuously improve our exercises so that you can enjoy the best brain training there is.

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1: Ruthsatz, J., & Urbach, J. B. (2012). Child prodigy: A novel cognitive profilce places elevated general intelligence, exceptional working memory and attention to detail at the root of prodigiousness. Intelligence, 40 (5), 419-426.

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