Psychotherapy Services in South West London

Is Precociousness a real predictor of success?

We assume great talent is manifested early on but precociousness is a far slipperier subject than we think. Consider the fortunes of pupils who attended New York’s Hunter College Elementary School for the intellectually gifted, as documented by the 1993 book “Genius Revisited”. Now grown up the former pupils, all of whom had an IQ of over 155 when they attended the school, were doing well – they were happy and had good jobs. But the book has a disappointed tone – after all, the school’s intention was to seek out and nurture the next generation of superstars, the Nobel Prize winners, the Pulitzer winners, yet this simply hadn’t happened. Or look at it the other way – if you take history’s great achievers, you will find only a minority were considered precocious as children, Copernicus, Back,  Newton, Da Vinci or Locke: none of them would even have made it past the Hunter College’s entry requirements. So what is going on? Why does childhood talent, or lack of it, not predicts adult success of failure? Gladwell (best selling author of Blink and The Tipping Point) argued it is because childhood is about learning and the consumption of knowledge. Adulthood success, by contrast, is about the production of knowledge, being a doer not a mimic. Gladwell observed that for some reason, when it comes to intellectual talent, society is obsessed by speed of acquisition. It is a ludicrous perspective. We don’t think that way about other aspects of development like walking – we realise we are all going to end up walking anyway, what does it matter that little Johnny started walking at such a young age? Or take reading – research shows there is no correlation between the age of acquisition and later reading ability or enjoyment. In fact, the opposite may be true – there is evidence in Switzerland that the policy to push kids into reading hard and early could be harmful. By contrast there is high literacy in Denmark where reading is taught late. What we usually means by precocity is that a child is showing an unusual intellectual ability for their age. But success as an adult is based on more that that. An analysis of national music examination results showed that the strongest predictor of success was practice. The top performing children practised 800 per cent more than the lower ranking kids. So, Gladwell argued, we need to rethink what we mean by preciousness and to consider the effect on children of not being labelled as precocious – by selecting children early (for example as a future runner) we are putting other children off and we will never know how good they might have been. Many of the things that matter to adult success, such as motivation aren’t fixed at all. In real estate we care about the finished building, not the building schedule, Gladwell conclude, we should have the same attitude towards kids.

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