Working Memory and Prodigies

At age 3, a female prodigy (we’ll call her Jane) was composing music. By age 6, she had played at the White House and toured internationally. What makes Jane and other child prodigies different from the rest of us? In a 2012 paper published in the journal Intelligence, two researchers from Yale and Ohio State Universities profiled 7 child prodigies in hopes of uncovering the root of their talents. Their secret? Something quite common: all 7 excelled in working memory, a core cognitive ability that every person uses in day-to-day life.

7 exceptional people measured by 5 variables

Child prodigies, as defined by the authors of this 2012 paper, are those who managed to reach professional status in an established field at a remarkably young age. This paper examined 7 child prodigies so outstanding, each had been featured in national and international TV segments for their prowess in music, art, gastronomy, or math.

Previous attempts to uncover the root of child prodigies’ talents proposed several possible factors: general intelligence, working memory ability, visual ability, amount of time spent training in their skill (10+ years), autism, and others.