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The term "child prodigy" tends to cast a familiar trope. It often connotes a child who excels at a certain academic topic or in an artistic field. They're often regarded as masters of a certain domain and they wield a great deal of sheer talent. So, is there a way to scientifically measure prodigies? Can psychologists even agree on a definition, let alone determine why some people turn out to be prodigies?
The existing research tends to vary. Some psychologists turn to the IQ test as a way of determining if someone is indeed a prodigy. According to research published by Psychology Today, children deemed math prodigies have IQs in the 134-147 range, while musical prodigies tend to be somewhere around 108-142. Lewis Terman, the creator of the IQ concept, the average IQ is about 100. A score higher than 110 is regarded as superior intelligence and a score over 140 is considered "genius." This data rests on the strength of the IQ system, which....is a topic for another video.
In terms of why some children possess such remarkable skills and others don't, the scientific data is limited. A small study, published in Human Heredity, looked at five families and suggests that levels of "genius" might have to do with how individuals store memory. In simple terms, we have two places to store memory. The hippocampus stores long-term memories, including facts, dates, names, etc. The prefrontal cortex, on the other hand, is the site of muscle memory (riding a bike, tying your shoes, e.g.). This study suggested that prodigies may store hard data, such as facts and dates, in the prefrontal cortex. This would imply that prodigies are able to draw on wells of information like riding a bike.
Another study, published in The Journal of Creative Behavior, there may be an element of nurture as well. The research looked at high-achieving, creative students and found that they tend to be raised in environments with fewer rules.
The Myth of Prodigy and Why it Matters (Psychological Science)
"We think of precociousness as an early form of adult achievement, and, according to Gladwell, that concept is much of the problem. "What a gifted child is, in many ways, is a gifted learner. And what a gifted adult is, is a gifted doer. And those are quite separate domains of achievement."' Mozart's inheritance: Discovering the science behind child prodigies (Columbia Chronicle)
"a child prodigy-someone who achieves an extraordinary skill level at an unusually early age. People in this category are exceptionally rare, according to Ohio State University psychologist Joanne Ruthsatz, who studies child prodigies. One in 5 million children is considered a prodigy"
Genius and autism may share genetic link, study finds (PBS)
"Ruthsatz and her colleagues from Ohio State University, as well as researchers at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus looked at snippets of DNA from five child prodigies and their autistic family members. They found something similar on chromosome 1, the first of 46 chromosomes that humans typically possess."