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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Argentine conductor Daniel Barenboim, age 11, with the Gadna Symphonic orchestra and conductor Moshe Lustig, Israel 1953

A child prodigy is someone who at an early age masters one or more skills at an adult level.[1] One heuristic for classifying prodigies is: a prodigy is a child, typically younger than 15 years old, who is performing at the level of a highly trained adult in a very demanding field of endeavor.[1][2]

The giftedness of child prodigies is determined by the degree of their talent relative to their ages. Examples of particularly extreme child prodigies would include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in music, Judit Polgár in chess, Carl Friedrich Gauss 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, and Fred Goodwin.

Memory capacity of child prodigies

PET scans performed on several math 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 prodigious number-manipulation.

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.

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 child 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 child 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 child 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 expression.

Nature versus nurture in the development of the child prodigy

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

For example, Laszlo Polgar 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. It is noteworthy that Laszlo Polgar himself was a modest chess player.[8], leaving the possibility that his daughters inherited some ability.

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.
  • 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. "Whiz Kids". 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. ^ PET Scans
  5. ^ Vandervert 2007, 2009a, 2009b
  6. ^ Ito 2005, 2007
  7. ^ Vandervert 2009a
  8. ^ Queen takes all -, January 2002

External links


Simple English


A child prodigy is a child who is very smart at an early age. They can do things that average people can only do when they are adults. Child prodigies are often musicians or mathematicians. A child prodigy does not always grow up to be a world-famous genius. Some of them lose their exceptional gifts in adulthood.


  • The composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a child prodigy. He could play the harpsichord when he was three, and by the time he was six his father was taking him on concert tours to show off his son's talent. Fortunately Mozart did grow up to be a world-famous composer.
  • The composer William Crotch was also a child prodigy. He could play God Save the King with both hands on the piano when he was two. But Crotch did not become famous like Mozart. He just grew up to be a good musician.
  • There may have been many other child prodigies who never became clever adults at all, or who died before they could become famous. Sometimes their childhoods are very difficult because people expect so much of them.
  • The great German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss was an exceptional child prodigy. It is said that when he was three he saw a mistake his father had made when adding up the wage bills. Another famous child prodigy was the Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton. At the age of 13, Hamilton was not only a brilliant at math but also spoke 13 languages.
  • Zerah Colburn was the first of several children known as "mental calculators." Zerah was born in 1804 in Vermont. At age six, before he could read or write numbers, he could multiply a two-digit number by a two-digit number in his head. At age eight, he could compute 8 to the sixteenth power. His answer was 281,474,976,710,656. By the time he was 10 years old, Zerah's father took him to cities all over the United States to display his amazing abilities. He was also already well-known in Europe. His abilities declined as he got older. Later he wrote an autobiography about his life and his unusual skills.


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