Do child prodigies' intellectual growth plateau?

For example, if someone entered an elite university at age 14 or 15, is it necessarily the case that that 15 year old is roughly an intellectual equal of an 18 year old freshman? What difference in intellectual capacity lies between a 15 year old and an 18 year old?

But my main question is whether the people who didn’t enter elite universities at a precocious age are doomed to inferiority forever. If someone enters Harvard at 15, will s/he always be ahead of the curve of his classmates who entered at 18, such that, when the individual in question is 25, s/he will be as smart as or smarter than the people who entered at 18 are at 28?

I would think that even a regular Harvard student who entered at 18 eventually plateaus, so that she at 2X is roughly as smart as she will be at 2X +3, so that the person who entered at 15, at 25, will be roughly as smart as the regular graduate at 28, but also that same regular graduate at 31 or 34 or 59 (or whenever before senility kicks in, if it does).

However, the student who entered at 15 has already been shown to have developed positively aberrantly, and I don’t have any scientific evidence (if such can be provided) for my belief that a Harvard graduate at 2X…roughly as smart as…2X +3, so I wanted to know what other molds the prodigy can break.

EDIT: I switched gender pronouns midway without noticing, but the context should make it evident whom I’m talking about.

I think we’ve done this before, and the conclusion was that child prodigies are good news stories, but don’t really amount to much more than the average person in that field (in MOST cases). They may end up making one or two more important finds than their more traditionally aged peers over the course of their lives, but overall just end up being another Joe in their field.

Honestly, I’m surprised more don’t fail spectacularly, either due to bullying (due to being so “different” from their colleagues), unduly perceived inferiority (due to their own perfectionism), or hubris so big they end up digging their own grave by alienating people or plain snapping.

I’ll try and find the thread (not to discourage you from posting this, just for more data points).


This is the thread I was thinking of:

Wendell Wagner’s post at #10 sheds some light.

Now I don’t know whether I should revive a dead thread or continue in a repeat but the two parts I noticed were, both by Wendell Wagner:

“He won’t do any better on average than the person who went through school at the normal speed and did well.”

“There’s no solid evidence that being educated at a very young age particularly helps or hurts people.”

Basically, which of the following do those 2 seemingly conflicting statements support.

  1. No study has been conducted to compare prodigies with other Ph.D’s so any attribution of higher intelligence to a former prodigy is ungrounded or speculation.

or 2. No formal scientific study has been conducted (unless there has), but a moderately rigorous surface comparison of former prodigies within Ph.D holders or Nobel Prize winners or some other group regarded to have achieved noteworthy accomplishments and others in that group who were not prodigies reveals no advantage for either contingent.

I know (and have both taken a class with, and graded for) a prodigy who started taking college classes at age 7. As of when she was 15, she was certainly in the upper echelons of college students, though I’ve had several other students at a similar level. She’s planning on going for breadth of knowledge before depth, and already has something like 4 or 5 bachelor’s degrees (she’s about 20 now).

I don’t understand this post at all. IMO, the two quotes by Wendell Wagner are not contradictory.

But assuming the last two statements are true about the lack of research in that area, then Wendell’s first quote may be untrue as there is insufficient research to support the claim. Wendell’s second quote is more or less of the final two statements – that there is no evidence available to draw a conclusion.

Let’s put it this way: No, there is no evidence that someone who “didn’t enter elite universities at a precocious age” is “doomed to inferiority forever.” Yes, on average child prodigies do very well. It’s probably true that they do a little bit better on average than people who enter college at a typical age but who are at the top of their age group in I.Q. If you look at the people who end up later in life at the top of their fields, there are probably more of them who went through through their education at a normal rate than there are ones who went through it in a very fast rate. For that matter, there are a few who took longer than average who made it to the top of their fields. Yes, it’s probably better to accelerate your education. No, it won’t destroy your life if you don’t.

Does “people who enter college at a typical age but who are at the top of their age group in I.Q.” mean those atop their age bracket of those who share similar or identical IQs, or those possessing the highest IQ among peers similarly or identically aged?

If there’s no evidence suggesting students who enter at a typical age are doomed to inferiority, is there evidence to support your statement’s probable truth?

For example, within a confined temporal window, say one’s undergraduate years, do child prodigies who had entered at 15 (or younger) perform better when compared with students who had entered at a typical age but graduated at or near the top of the class, irrespective of what they do after they graduate?

miragesyzygy, I can’t find any precise numbers on how well child prodigies do on average. Here’s an article about the subject that talks about it in a general way. It has some links on the bottom to other articles about the subject:

When someone brings up the topic of child prodigies (and over the years posters on the SDMB have asked questions about this subject a number of times), they often seem to have one of these extreme positions:

  1. All child prodigies succeed as well as their parents (or whoever has been their mentors) have hoped. They all go on to win Nobel Prizes or become universally famous as a great musician or whatever. They are never a disappointment.

  2. They all become completely screwed up by the pressure. They give up trying and spend the rest of their lives as unknowns. They wander the streets as homeless people.

  3. They all get bored with whatever subject they were prodigies in and take up some other field.

  4. They don’t do any better on average than anyone else who’s considered quite smart but didn’t accelerate their education.

There are one or two examples of number 2. This is called mental illness. Child prodigies are no more and no less likely to become mentally ill later in life. The pressure itself doesn’t seem to be what caused them to become mentally ill.

There are some examples of number 3. Some of them probably did resent the pressure and out of spite went into a different field. Some of them changed subjects just out of boredom. Some of them realized that, as they approached adulthood, they weren’t going to be at the top of the field they had been pushed toward, so they picked something else to do for the rest of their lives.

There are a few examples of number 1. However, there are a lot of examples of people who weren’t prodigies who also reached the top of their field. I suspect that child prodigies are slightly more likely to reach the top of their field than very smart people who weren’t pushed into accelerated educations, but I don’t know how to find the statistics on this.

Probably most prodigies end up as examples of number 4, doing well in the rest of their life but not reaching the top of their fields.

But, as I said, I have no figures on how many prodigies are in each of these categories. I’m just speaking from what I’ve read in some articles about the subject. Perhaps someone else has exact figures.