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What is a Child Genius?

Updated on January 31, 2009

What is a child prodigy?

One scientific definition of what makes a child prodigy comes from Feldman, D. H, he states that: '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.'

Although there remains some controversy over exactly what age limitations should be put upon this, there is always a risk in using strict classifications.

A child prodigy usually has particularly well developed skills in one area, such as mathematics, chess or reading. There tend to be more mathematical / scientific prodigies than those of the arts, perhaps because of heightened memory skills, which may aid maths better than english.  Although the child may be exceptionally clever some some areas they can lack common sense in others. For example, a computing genius may have limited language skills and communicative ability.  

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Some noteable child prodigy's and their achievments.

A look at this list is a mind boggling experience!

 * March Tian Boedihardjo: In 1998, he gained entry into Hong Kong Baptist University to study mathematics at the age of 9, becoming the youngest ever university student in Hong Kong.

  *Kim Ung-Yong: Attended university physics courses at age 4, Ph.D in physics before age 15. 

 *Akrit Jaswal: India's youngest university student. He carried out a surgical operation aged 7

  *Jackie Cooper: Youngest nominee for the Best Actor Oscar at age 9. 

 *William Cullen Bryant: Published at ten, had a book of political satire poems at 13  

*Gregory R. Smith: He entered college at age 10 and was first nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize at age 12 

 *Saul Kripke: Invited to apply for a teaching post at Harvard while still in high school 

 *Tiger Woods: He first won the Optimist International Junior tournament at age 8, playing in the 9-10 age group since there was no group for 8-year-olds at the time

It seems remarkable that these people were capable of achieving so much at such a young age. I can't help but feel a bit miffed that while i was quite proud of myself for tying my own shoelaces, other children were out earning their first degree! (yes i admit i'm a bit jealous!) However, it's probably important to note that genius does not come in proportion with happiness, in fact there seems to be a negative correlation, as genius goes up, happiness comes down. But we can't have everything in life i guess!

Cubix Rube anyone?

How old where you when you solved your first rubix cube? (or, like me, have you yet to try!)
How old where you when you solved your first rubix cube? (or, like me, have you yet to try!)

Nature or Nurture?

So, are child geniuses just born this way? Somehow 'different' from the rest? Or are they 'made' ? The products of pushy parents, and driven school systems. Perhaps the best approach is to say that there is an interaction.

Well the evidence is mixed and we cannot say for sure. Brain scan researc on children with amazing mathematical ability showed that when solving problems, in comparison to 'regular kids' different (and indeed more) parts of their brain were active. But this doesn't necessarily mean that they were born with the ability, it could be that years of practise and learning has changed the way their brain works. You cannot establish cause and effect here, if you get me?


Extra reading for the studious and the inquisitive :-)


There have always been child prodigy's and thus there have always been people willing to fake a prodigious talent. Take a look at the following examples of potential fakers...

 Akiane Kramarik, is a child prodigy. Or is she? Well she has apparently been taught by God how to paint, who visited her in a dream... (ok...) well, she has some beautiful paintings to her name. So what is the problem? Well, no one has ever actually seen her paint a thing, she cannot do so apparently under anyones watching eye... seems a bit suspicious? Well, it gets worse. Her mother is a professional artist along with many other members of her family. I sense a scandal coming on... 

A good one at that, because a self portrait of Akiane Kramarik sold for 10 thousand dollars, and apparently an original work can go for up to a million dollars. Yes, i said one million dollars. (her mother must be very flattered... oh i mean, proud!)

Another potential faker, is the so called “Boy Wonder” of India, Tathagat Avtar Tulsi. Tulsi had been claiming to have degree certificates, (which were not checked by the Department for Science and Technology) and had been claiming  that he has modified Einstein's equations of gravitation and “discovered” a new fundamental particle which has “consciousness” that explains dark matter in the universe.

However, since then, the boy wonder has been revealed to be no more a physicist genius than Paris Hilton.

James / Lauren Harries was a 12-year-old 'antiques expert' who appeared on TV wearing a ridiculous velvet suit with bow tie and blond curls, speaking in the Queen's Enlish with an accent and mannuerisms to rival hers! However, it began to emerge that there was more to the picture than what appeared on the surface. It seems he was being coached by his parents before appearing on TV. His parents, also claimed to be marriage counsellors and private detectives and ran a florist's and a fancy-dress hire business. His father went to prison for arson and fraud after one shop burnt down.

James was educated at home, but only achieved three GCSE's, he has since undergone a sex change operation and now goes by the name of Lauren. She does not like to speak about her past as a 'prodigy' but is currently persuing a career in reality TV.


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    • profile image

      Amarsh 7 years ago

      Chill out people, the author introduces himself as "I am a 22 year old English Literature graduate student, with a second degree in Psychology. I write freelance to support myself through my Masters." His comments about Tulsi (or rather anyone else) is no more than an extract of a few hours of googling. An English literture kid commenting on a Physicist's work is a joke to start with !

    • profile image

      Akash Kumar 7 years ago

      I also used to think that Tulsi was a faker, but after going through his publications it seems that he is the real deal.

      I feel a little bad about having misgivings about the boy earlier, but would like to spread the word that he actually knows stuff.

      Check his wikiepdia page. I would request you also to retract your statement about comparing him with Paris Hilton. He is in the same league (I think a little below though) as Terence Tao

    • profile image

      Maheshwar 8 years ago

      I stongly object reference to Dr. Tathagat tulsi in the article. He has more than once proved himself a child prodigy.He is a national child awardee.He got his Ph.D. from the prestigious IISc ,bangluru at a young age cleary proves him a genius.

      Moreover now we know that some jealous ,wicked and unpatroitic persons tried to tarnish his image but failed miserably.

    • LondonGirl profile image

      LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

      They often seem to have disastrous lives - not something to envy, I reckon.

    • Bruce Elkin profile image

      Bruce Elkin 8 years ago from Victoria, BC Canada

      A couple of new books that address this issue in passing: Outliers and Iconoclasts. Both point out that luck, social skills and 10,000 hours of practice determine whether the prodigy becomes a grown up success, or fades away. Many fade away.

      Liked the Hub!

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 8 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      I have always been fascinated with hild geniuses and/or prodigies. It boggles my mind everytime i think of how these child wonders could be like what they are (but of course my point of comparison would be myself so it really is boggling! LOL). But whether it is nature or nuture it all points to the mystery and complexity of the human brain as a frontier yet to be fully explored.