Beyond exceptional: What makes a child prodigy?

The painting is described thus: "Ludwig v...
Did Ludwig van Beethoven have an incredible working memory like other child prodigies? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who hasn’t heard of Mozart or Picasso? Not only is their work admired and enjoyed decades and even centuries after their deaths, but the sheer measure of their talents still astounds us. Part of our enduring fascination with Mozart and Picasso comes from the fact that both were well recognised child prodigies in their days. Mozart, for example, began composing short piano pieces at the age of just 5 and by the age of 20, he had amassed an impressive repertoire of symphonies, sonatas, string quartets, violin and piano concertos, and a few minor operas — more than most of us, even the musically inclined, are able to accomplish in a lifetime.

Today, child prodigies can attract an enormous amount of attention in the media. But what is it that makes a child exceptional? Does talent blossom naturally, or does it require careful coaxing by parents and teachers? Are the brains of child prodigies working differently to our own?

In the latest episode of Up Close, I spoke with psychologist Dr Joanne Ruthsatz, who joined us from the studios of Ohio State University in Columbus Ohio. Joanne is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Ohio State University’s Mansfield Campus and has spent years working with child prodigies to see what makes them tick.

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