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There is sometimes confusion about the words used to describe a student's advanced development or capability – with changes occurring over time – as often occurs with changes in any dynamic language.  For a while 'gifted' and 'talented' were combined … as if these formed one word. The words were then regarded as interchangeable, with either word able to be used in place of the other. 'Gifted' was later used to indicate that an individual could do anything; whereas 'talented' referred to a specific capability exhibited by an individual.  Finally, Françoys Gagné, Emeritus Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Quebec in Montreal, developed the Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent (DMGT) to clarify that the term 'gifted' referred to natural abilities when it occurred in the top ten percent of the population; whereas 'talent' referred to the top ten percent of systematically developed skills in any field.

The terms 'prodigy', 'precocious' and 'precocity' usually refer to the development of a talent that occurs before the expected time.  The term 'child prodigy' is a tautology because the term 'prodigy' refers to a skill that is exhibited at an adult level before the individual is aged twelve … so of course, the individual is still a child.

The famous 'Study for Mathematically Precocious Youth' (SMPY), was originally located at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, USA, but has since moved to Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, since Julian Stanley, the founder of SMPY, died and the current leaders, Camilla Benbow and David Lubinski took over the program. Australian Field's Medalist, Terry Tao participated in the SMPY holiday programs where he developed his precocious mathematical talent.

There are many individuals who are regarded as precocious even if they have not had an opportunity to participate in a program specifically set up for individuals exhibiting precocious talent. Sudanese refugee athlete, Awer Mabil is believed to have precocious soccer skills.  In addition to Terry Tao, Akshay Venkatesh is regarded as a precocious mathematician.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a precocious musician, playing the harpsicord by the age of four and composing music when still a young child. Although he was multi-talented and known primarily as a mathematician, physicist, computer scientist and economist, John von Neumann had precocious language development and could joke with his father in classical Greek. 

Precocious artists have been researched by Ellen Winner; however, it seems that realist artists are more likely to be identified when young. There are many who have been identified as precocious writers, including Susan Sontag who read voraciously before self-publishing her own writing at age nine. Jack Andraka exhibited a precocious scientific talent, making a significant scientific discovery when still at school. Talent usually develops over time, but some Individuals exhibit precocious talent.

​© Michele Juratowitch  

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Last reviewed 18 November 2022
Last updated 18 November 2022