A child prodigy is a one who masters one or more skills or arts at an early age. One heuristic for classifying prodigies is: a prodigy is a child, typically younger than 13 years old , who is performing at the level of a highly trained adult in a very demanding field of endeavor. . However, the talent of a child prodigy is determined by his/her talent in relation to the age. Examples of child prodigies would include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Carl Freidrich Gauss or Pablo Picasso. There is controversy as to at what age and standard to use in the definition of a prodigy.
The term Wunderkind (from German: "miracle child" or "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 Joaquin Zaragoza, Steven Spielberg, Steve Jobs, Gary Coleman, Chad Crutchfield and Michael Jackson. However, child prodigies may also be people who do not acquire fame at an early age but are still extremely talented in their field.
Cognitive studies on child prodigies
Memory capacity of child prodigies
performed on several math prodigies 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
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 an environment has in determining the area toward which a child's energy will be directed, and showing that an incredible amount of skill can be developed through suitable training.