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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mozart started composing at the age of five.
Mozart started composing at the age of five.

A child prodigy is defined in psychology research literature as a person under the age of ten who produces meaningful output in some domain to the level of an adult expert performer.[1][2][3]

The term wunderkind (from German: Wunderkind, literally "wonder child") is sometimes used as a synonym for child prodigy, particularly in media accounts. Wunderkind also is used to recognize those who achieve success and acclaim early in their adult careers.[4]

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  • 10 Mind Blowing Child Prodigies
  • Top 10 Child Prodigies
  • 14-Year-Old Prodigy Programmer Dreams In Code
  • 14-year-old chess and math prodigy enrolls at UCLA


10 Mind Blowing Child Prodigies 1. Theodore Kaczynski [kaz-in-ski] Theodore Kaczynski was a math prodigy, admitted into Harvard at just 16 years old. After graduation he earned a doctorate, and his thesis paper was so complex that even his professors were unable to understand it. Kaczynski was one of 22 students experimented on as part of the CIA’s infamous MKULTRA program, and soon afterward he became a recluse, living in a secluded cabin in the woods. He spent the next two decades mailing home made bombs to university students and employees, killing three people and injuring 23 others. The FBI arrested him in 1996, and he is now serving 8 life prison sentences. Source: Huffington Post 9. William James Sidis Born in 1898, William James Sidis was considered to be one of the smartest children to have ever lived. At 18 months old he was able to read, and at just 8 years old he had developed a new mathematical formula, a logarithm table based on the number 12. In the same year, he not only taught himself eight languages, but also created his own language, which he called Vendergood. At age 11 he was accepted into Harvard University and gave a lecture about four dimensional bodies. Understandably Sidis struggled with the media attention surrounding him, and after graduation he took a celibacy vow and lived the rest of his life secluded from society. Source: Asperger Syndrome: A Gift Or a Curse? By Viktoria Lyons, Dr. Michael Fitzgerald 8. Taylor Wilson While most children spend their time playing video games, 11-year-old Taylor Wilson was busy in his garage building a small bomb made out of sugar and stump remover. Still a child, Wilson started making new developments in the field of radioactivity, and by 14 he’d successfully built a working nuclear fusion reactor. The device Wilson created brought the temperature of the plasma core to 520mc, 40 times hotter than the core of the sun. By 16 years old, Wilson was advising the US government on counter terrorism, after he built a device that could detect nuclear materials in cargo containers. Source: The Guardian 7. Kieron Williamson Kieron Williamson is a 14-year-old art prodigy from Norfolk in England, who is often described as the ‘mini-Monet [monnay]’. He started painting at five years old after asking his parents to buy him a drawing pad on their holiday in Cornwall. Just two years later, he showcased his paintings in his first exhibition, which sold out in minutes, earning him $200,000. By just eight years old, he was able to buy his parents a house from the proceeds of his work. By 11 years old, he was worth almost $2m. Source: BBC 6. Sho Yano [sho yah-no] As a child, Sho Yano stunned the world with his scientific ability and massive IQ of 200. He steamed through elementary to high school and at 9 years old he went to college. After his undergraduate degree, he was offered a place at the University of Chicago and graduated with a PhD in molecular genetics and cell biology at just 18. In 2012, at 21 years old, he became one of the nation’s youngest ever qualified doctors and now works as a pediatric neurologist. Source: Huffington Post 5. Adora Svitak [svee-tahk] Adora Svitak was a child literary prodigy, who gained national media attention at seven years old for writing over 300 short stories, as well as her ability to read three books a day. At the same age, her first book Flying Fingers was published, which was critically acclaimed, and she started teaching poetry to elementary school children. By 13 she had become a leading activist in the importance of education and delivered her own speech at TED. And by 15 Svitak was speaking at the UN to discuss how technology can be used to improve child education. Source: Telegraph 4. Timothy Doner [like organ donor] After studying for his bar mitzvah as a teenager, Timothy Doner became interested in Middle Eastern culture, which prompted him to learn modern Hebrew. After learning the language at a fast pace with a tutor, Doner delved into Arabic by himself and became fluent in just one week. He dedicated the next three years of his life to intensely studying linguistics, and by 16 years old was able to speak a staggering twenty-three languages, including the Native American language Ojibwe [oh-jib-way], Indonesian, and Kurdish. Source: BBC 3. Nick D’Aloisio [da-loss-ee-oh] At 12 years old, Nick D’Aloisio decided to teach himself computer programming, which enabled him to release his first iPhone application later that year. Over the next few years D’Aloisio spent his time developing an algorithm that would automatically summarize large sets of text, in an app called Summly. D’Aloisio became the youngest person in the world to raise venture capital, after receiving a $1m dollar investment for the app. And in 2013, when he was just 17, he sold his app to Yahoo for over $30m. Source: BBC 2. Sufiah Yusof [soo-fee-ya - yoo-soff] Sufiah Yusof achieved an A grade in the most challenging pre-college mathematics exam in the UK, which secured her a place at Oxford University at the age of just 12. Unfortunately, while her academic life thrived, her family life fell apart, and she suffered emotional and physical abuse from her father, who was subsequently jailed for sexual assault. Yusof dropped out of Oxford University, and since then she’s been working under the title ‘Asian escort’, advertising herself as a prostitute at a rate of $180 an hour. Source: The Telegraph 1 - Mozart World-renowned composer Mozart can only be described as a musical genius. At just six years old he wrote his first composition, and by 8 he’d written his first symphony for a full orchestra. At the age of 14, on a trip to Rome, Mozart heard a performance of Allegri’s Miserere, [al-egg-ree, miz-eh-rare-ray], a choral work that consists of 9 individual vocal parts and lasts 12 minutes. Mozart was able to go home that day and write out the entire piece from memory. Source: Huffington Post



Memory capacity of prodigies

PET scans performed on several mathematics prodigies have suggested that they think in terms of long-term working memory (LTWM).[5] 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.[5]

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.[5]

Working memory/cerebellum theory

"My mother said that I should finish high school and go to college first."

Saul Kripke in response to an invitation to apply for a teaching position at Harvard[6]

Noting that the cerebellum acts to streamline the speed and efficiency of all thought processes, Vandervert[7] 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.[8]

Vandervert[9] 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 artistic precocity.[10]

Essentially, Vandervert has argued that when a child is confronted with a challenging new situation, visual-spatial working memory and speech-related and other notational system-related working memory are decomposed and re-composed (fractionated) by the cerebellum and then blended in the cerebral cortex in an attempt to deal with the new situation.[11] In child prodigies, Vandervert believes this blending process is accelerated due to their unique emotional sensitivities which result in high levels of repetitious focus on, in most cases, particular rule-governed knowledge domains. He has also argued that child prodigies first began to appear about 10,000 years ago when rule-governed knowledge had accumulated to a significant point, perhaps at the agricultural-religious settlements of Göbekli Tepe or Cyprus.[12]


Daniel Barenboim, age 11, with Conductor Moshe Lustig and the Gadna Symphonic orchestra 1953
Daniel Barenboim, age 11, with Conductor Moshe Lustig and the Gadna Symphonic orchestra 1953

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. 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.[13]

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".[14] Despite his father's opposition, Handel became a skillful performer on the harpsichord and pipe organ.[15]

Prodigiousness in childhood is not always maintained into adulthood. Some researchers have found that gifted children fall behind due to lack of effort. Jim Taylor, professor at the University of San Francisco, theorizes that this is because gifted children experience success at an early age with little to no effort and may not develop a sense of ownership of success. Therefore, these children might not develop a connection between effort and outcome. Some children might also believe that they can succeed without effort in the future as well. Dr. Anders Ericcson, professor at Florida State University, researches expert performance in sports, music, mathematics, and other activities. His findings demonstrate that prodigiousness in childhood is not a strong indicator of later success. Rather, the number of hours devoted to the activity was a better indicator. [16]

Rosemary Callard-Szulgit and other educators have written extensively about the problem of perfectionism in bright children, calling it their "number one social-emotional trait". Gifted children often associate even slight imperfection with failure, so that they become fearful of effort, even in their personal lives, and in extreme cases end up virtually immobilized.[17]

Special needs of gifted children

Gifted children will sometimes have their own unique set of needs and can often struggle in nonacademic areas. Since these children are usually viewed as natural achievers it can be even more difficult for them to receive the special assistance they need in areas not directly related to academic performance.[18] In most cases there are five specific special needs common to children who are identified as gifted:

Gifted children often struggle with interpersonal relationships with peers. They may find it difficult to relate to others and may recognize that they are different than most children. Thus, these children might view themselves as needing to be separate.

Gifted children often have trouble paying attention in class which can result with a mixed diagnosis of ADD or ADHD. Although it’s possible for a gifted child to have these disorders, careful diagnostic measures must be taken. Gifted children often lack motivation to complete certain tasks if they feel that they are not being challenged enough. When gifted children aren’t provided with engaging material, their lack of focus may be perceived as an attention deficit disorder.[19]

Children who equate their performance with their self-worth often become perfectionists and struggle to perform to their own ideal standard, often setting bars for themselves that are too high and becoming angry, upset, or even depressed when they fail to meet their own expectations.

Specialists theorize that the spoken word can be difficult for some gifted children because they have the added task of translating the complex ideas in their heads into language that others of similar age can understand. This process can lead to abnormal hesitation when speaking, stuttering, and frustration on the part of the child.[20]

See also


  1. ^ Feldman, David H.; Morelock, M. J. (2011). "Prodigies". In Runco, Mark A.; Pritzker, Steven R. Encyclopedia of Creativity (Second Edition). Academic Press. pp. 261–265. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-375038-9.00182-5. ISBN 978-0-12-375038-9. Retrieved 8 April 2015. Lay summary (8 April 2015). For the purposes of this and future research, a prodigy was defined as a child younger than 10 years of age who has reached the level of a highly trained professional in a demanding area of endeavor. – via ScienceDirect (Subscription may be required or content may be available in libraries.)
  2. ^ Rose, Lacey (2 March 2007). "Whiz Kids". Forbes. Retrieved 3 April 2015. At the moment, the most widely accepted definition is a child, typically under the age of 10, who has mastered a challenging skill at the level of an adult professional.
  3. ^ Feldman, David Henry (Fall 1993). "Child prodigies: A distinctive form of giftedness" (PDF). Gifted Child Quarterly. 27 (4): 188–193. doi:10.1177/001698629303700408. ISSN 0016-9862. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  4. ^ "wunderkind". Retrieved 2012-12-06.
  5. ^ a b c What makes a prodigy? By Brian Butterworth. nature neuroscience • volume 4 no 1 • january 2001
  6. ^ Charles McGrath, "Philosopher, 65, Lectures Not About 'What Am I?' but 'What Is I?'", January 28, 2006
  7. ^ Vandervert 2007, 2009a, 2009b
  8. ^ Ito 2005, 2007
  9. ^ Vandervert 2009a
  10. ^ Vandervert 2009a, 2009b, in press-a, in press-b
  11. ^ Vandervert, in press-a, in press-b.
  12. ^ Vandervert, 2009a, 2009b, in press-c
  13. ^ Queen takes all -, January 2002
  14. ^ Kivy, Peter. Sounding Off: Eleven Essays in the Philosophy of Music. Oxford. p. 24.
  15. ^ Historical Dictionary of British Theatre: Early Period. Scarecrow Press. p. 186. ISBN 9780810880283.
  16. ^ Taylor, Jim. “The Problem of Giftedness.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 19 Nov. 2009,
  17. ^ Rosemary Callard-Szulgit, Perfectionism and Gifted Children. 2nd edition, R&L Education. July 31, 2012.
  18. ^ “Accommodations and Modifications.” National Association of Special Education Teachers, 2001,
  19. ^ Jr., Chester E. Finn. “Gifted Students Have 'Special Needs,' Too.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 22 Dec. 2012,
  20. ^ Kamal, Teena. “” Special Needs of Gifted Children |, 19 Sept. 2012,

Further reading

External links

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