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What makes a child prodigy? © Getty Images

What makes a child prodigy?

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A child genius is born with brains, but there might be more than grey matter behind their incredible intelligence.

Asked by: Bill Steiner, USA


Prodigies are defined by their childhood ability to perform at adult professional levels in a particular area. Some experts argue that prodigies benefit from years of intense, early practice, usually encouraged by ambitious parents.

Others highlight prodigies’ innate abilities: for example, a 2014 study assessed 18 child prodigies and found that what they all had in common was a heightened attention to detail and exceptional working memory (the ability to store and process information over short time periods).

Prodigiousness seems to arise from a combination of this cognitive profile with what psychologist Ellen Winner describes as a “rage to master” their craft.


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Dr Christian Jarrett is a cognitive neuroscientist, science writer and author. He is the Deputy Editor of Psyche, the sister magazine to Aeon that illuminates the human condition through psychology, philosophy and the arts. Jarrett also created the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog and was the first ever staff journalist on the Society's magazine, The Psychologist. He is author of Great Myths of The Brain and Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change.


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