04 November 2007

Prodigies vs. Psychological Neoteny

The definition that we offered for the prodigy was a child (typically younger than 10 years old) who is performing at the level of a highly trained adult in a very demanding field of endeavor.Genius Denied
Child prodigies generally have IQs between 120 and 180, depending on the area of high performance. A child prodigy is different from a generally gifted child in focusing on one area of performance with a high level of motivation--far beyond its years.
This kid is special. He was practically born on a tennis court - his mother, tennis instructor Mari, was in the middle of a lesson when her waters broke. Jan started hitting balls at the age of one and now, a veteran of five, is beating kids twice his age, courtesy of his incredible all-round game.

If you thought the footage of Woods hitting golf balls as a tiny tot was impressive, wait till you see Silva's forehand volley on YouTube.

Child prodigies are rarely understood, but they shine a light on a possible human future where high achievement in an adult area of expertise will not be unusual for children under the age of 14. One reason it is so rare today is the general attitude of "babying" children into lifelong psychological neoteny--often in the name of protecting them from the "harsh world."

Parents of gifted children typically have high expectations, and also model hard work and high achievement themselves (Bloom, 1985; Csikszentmihalyi et al., 1993;Gardner, 1993a). But it is logically possible that gifted children have simply inherited their gift from their parents, who also happen to be hard working achievers. Parents of children in performance domains like music and athletics are the most directive; parents of children in visual arts are the least directive; and parents of children gifted in an academic domain fall somewhere in between (Bloom, 1985). To achieve in a performance domain, one must submit to rigorous and early training; even the most gifted children might not stick to such a rigorous schedule without a directive parent, one who insists that time be spent on practice.

Generally gifted children may lack the level of achievement of child prodigies, despite having the same IQ levels and enriched home environment. The prodigy displays a "single-minded" devotion to his area of high performance that acts in concert with intelligence to achieve expert level performance.

Motivation and single-mindedness incorporate the mysterious "executive functions" of the human brain/mind. Executive function may be as much as 99% heritable as opposed to the 50% to 80% heritability of IQ. Given the need to possess both at high levels for "optimal achievement", it is extremely likely that heritability plays a strong role in life success.

What if the prodigy or gifted child is not recognised as such. What if the parents are largely absent, and the school system serves as more of a prison or torture chamber than a place to learn basics and to learn to live one's dreams? Much human capital is wasted in this way. Gifted children and prodigies could make huge contributions to a better future, if they are recognised, nurtured, and gently guided.

Humans are riding a centuries-long wave of achievement--begun in Europe, but now incorporating contributions from East and South Asia, the middle east, the Americas, and the South Pacific. Given the immense challenges and dangers humans face, they cannot afford to waste human capital. It is time to say goodbye to child raising that creates lifelong "cute puppies" or psychological neotenates. It is time to treat children and teens to as much expertise and competence as they care to take up.

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Blogger Less said...

OMG, thank you for that breath of fresh air in a landscape devoid of any features...

Quoting the Invincibles, "When everyone is special, then no one is..."

Sunday, 04 November, 2007  
Blogger CS McClellan/Catana said...

We do need to improve both education and and our expectations for children, but a good deal of what you're basing your post on is outdated information. Prodigality is based on biology, not psychology. It is independent of support or lack of it, though it will certainly suffer from lack of support. Most prodigies don't come from families from which they might have inherited their talents, and few even continue in the area of their early skills, and the emphasis on prodigality is often damaging rather than helpful.

Monday, 05 November, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

Prodigality is based on biology, not psychology . . . Most prodigies don't come from families from whom they might have inherited their talents... Is there a contradiction here, C? The truth is, the information is not so much outdated as incomplete. There are many critically important unknowns remaining.

Talent without training is of limited use. Unrecognised gifted children and prodigies who are taught in factory-line government schools, without intensive parental or other adult guidance, are unlikely to demonstrate their capacity.

This is true of all children, of course, but the prodigy/gifted child demonstrates the massive waste of talent more clearly.

Tuesday, 06 November, 2007  
Blogger CS McClellan/Catana said...

I was aware when I wrote it that it might appear I was contradicting myself. But remember that not all biological traits are inherited. We still don't know why people like Newton suddenly appear, in families with no particular claims to intelligence, and with no ability to support their child's intelligence.

In general, I agree that talent needs training, and I implied that. I also agree that the schools are hopeless in that regard. But it's also true that some outstanding individuals effectively educate themselves, and develop their talents on their own. This is possible in areas that aren't as highly structured as music, science, etc., but it also requires self-knowledge.

As you said, it's a complex subject and so much is unknown. I explore these issues regularly on Gifted Mind -- http://giftedadults.wordpress.com

Tuesday, 06 November, 2007  

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