Gifted Minds; Experts Who Study the Brain Don't Agree on How It Works

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 2, 2004 | Go to article overview

Gifted Minds; Experts Who Study the Brain Don't Agree on How It Works


Byline: Shelley Widhalm, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Neuropsychologist Nadia Webb often is asked why she studies giftedness when "it's so elitist," as she is told.

"These are some of the people who have the potential to discover ... new breakthroughs," says Ms. Webb, associate faculty member and clinician in residence at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va.

She also is in private practice.

"It's tremendously important that we don't waste one of our most valuable natural resources. We are cheating ourselves if we do," she says.

That resource is the gifted mind, which processes information differently from the average mind, says Ms. Webb, who provides psychologists and laypeople with a lecture presentation, "The Gifted Brain: The State of the Literature on Neurobiological Differences," that pulls together the latest research on giftedness.

Ms. Webb and other regional neuropsychologists define giftedness at the physical and neurological levels. Educators provide advice for fostering that giftedness.

The gifted mind has an intelligence quotient (IQ) of 120 or higher, a number that is measured differently depending on the test. Schools' gifted programs require an IQ range of 115 to 130, depending on the state, according to "Genius Denied," by Jan and Bob Davidson of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.

One person in 20 has an IQ of 125 or above, and one in 10,000 is profoundly gifted, with an IQ of 160 or higher, according to the Davidson Institute. The average IQ, which is the ratio of tested mental age to chronological age, is 100.

The gifted, categorized in the top 2.5 percent to 5 percent of the nation, tend to be intense and passionate about their interests, Ms. Webb says.

"They tend to do things more quickly and think more abstractly. They often are very quick to learn things," she says.Fourteen-year-old Sejoon Park is passionate about music and plays the piano, clarinet, cello and harpsichord. The rising eighth-grader, an honors student at St. James Catholic Middle School in Falls Church, started piano studies at age 6.

"I just have a lot of interest in music. That's why I always try different instruments," he says.

Born to cellist parents in Seoul, Korea, Sejoon moved to America in 2001 for better tutoring.

Sejoon, who lives with his aunt Helen Spears in Falls Church, has appeared with a Korean orchestra, performed in concerts and placed in several music competitions, including second place in the Oberlin International Piano Competition in July 2004.

"He plays with such detail and nuance. His ability to listen and to pick things out is pretty remarkable," says Lois Narvey, director of admissions and programs at the Levine School of Music and his harpsichord teacher. "He's gifted in all sorts of ways."

The gifted can be curious, perfectionist, easy to bore and quick to question authority, Ms. Webb says. They can grasp abstract ideas beyond the reach of their peers, see overarching principles, identify patterns and find exceptions to the rules.

The gifted reach milestones of intellectual development earlier than their peers, such as developing an advanced vocabulary and reading at an early age, says Stephanie Tolan, writer and consultant and senior fellow at the California-based Institute for Educational Advancement, which provides programs, services and resources for gifted and talented students.

"Giftedness is an ability to process information more deeply, more broadly and faster than average," Mrs. Tolan says.

Studies show that the corpus collosum, a fluid-filled area connecting the two hemispheres of the brain, is more densely packed with neural connections in the gifted, allowing for information impulses to travel more quickly between the right and left brain, Mrs. Tolan says.

These neurons, the nerve cells that process and transmit information in the hemispheres, are connected to a greater number of other neurons than in the average mind, according to physical findings seen from samples of brain tissue, Ms. …

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