Child prodigy

Template:DisputeCheck A child prodigy, or simply prodigy, is someone who is a master of one or more skills or arts at an early age. One possible definition of a prodigy is a person who, by the age of 10, displays expert proficiency in a field usually only undertaken by adults. Some of the fields common to prodigies are mathematics, chess, art, and music, but prodigies occur in many other areas.

The term wunderkind (from German: Wunder, wonder/miracle + Kind, child, kid) is sometimes used as a synonym for prodigy, particularly in media accounts, although this term is discouraged in the scientific literature. Wunderkind is also used more generally of adults who achieve success and notoriety early in their careers, including Steven Spielberg and Steve Jobs.


Cognitive studies on child prodigies

There is much debate about what forms a prodigy, but many are found to come from families where one or more of the parents specialize in the field of the child’s talent. Mozart, one of the most accomplished classical musicians and a recognized musical prodigy, was raised by a musician father whose specialty was teaching. Pablo Picasso, the world-renowned artist prodigy, had a professional painter as a father. Also, in a recent study of Taiwanese physics and chemistry prodigies (, three-quarters of the children studied were first or only children in relatively well-off families in which both parents were professionals (though not necessarily in the child's field of expertise).

Few studies have examined the neurological activity of prodigies. Michael O'Boyle, an American psychologist working in Australia, however has recently utilized fMRI scanning of blood flow during mental operation in prodigies to display startling results. Mathematical prodigies, so-called “calculators,” achieve blood flow to parts of the brain responsible for mathematical operations six to seven times the typical flow.

PET Scans ( done to several math prodigies have led to the idea of the LTWM, or long-term working memory. 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 prodigal 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) uses 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.

While there are no definitive answers in the field of child prodigies, the consensus among most researchers is that it is caused by an interaction of environment (practice) and innate talent. Not all children are prodigies, and not all prodigies became so without hard work to develop their talents. The "Mozart Effect" of hereditary talent provides a base from which prodigious children may express their gifts. As Joanna Schaffhausen put it, "Mozart was a child prodigy; Beethoven was not. The world still marvels at them both."

List of child prodigies






See chess prodigy.





Mental calculators

Note: Several mathematicians were mental calculators when they were still children.


  • Steve Kirsch - Wrote an e-mail program at the age of 12, (witnessed, participated in the birth of the internet), programmed IBM 360 mainframe.
  • Chandra Sekar - MCSE at the age of 10
  • Brandon Burr - Wrote an operating system at the age of 16.
  • Yosyp S. - Learnt HTML, CSS, C, and started using linux at age of 11.



Several already mentioned prodigies were polyglots as children.


See also

es:Niño prodigio nl:Wonderkind sl:Čudežni otrok


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