Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

What Our Nerves Tell Us about Talent: Behaviour

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

What Our Nerves Tell Us about Talent: Behaviour

Article excerpt

Neuroscience shows the gifts of high-achieving pupils are down to both nature and nurture, says Dr Ellie Dommett.

Although the relevance of neuroscience to education has only recently gained widespread recognition, neuroscientists have for many years been researching areas that undoubtedly have implications in the classroom. For example, there are thousands of research articles investigating conditions such as dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Although there is no consensus on the likely causes and best approaches to conditions such as these, scientific research has made great advances in understanding the processes that might be altered in the brains of individuals with such conditions.

However, it could be argued that the applicability of this research to your average classroom teacher is limited to a small population of their pupils. Looking at ADHD, for example, which is the most prevalent neurodevelopmental disorder, the highest estimates of prevalence are approaching 15 per cent of school-aged children. But what about the remaining 85 per cent The majority will presumably have no identified special educational needs and will perform at average levels on the various tasks and skills they develop. Nevertheless, there will be some among that number who are termed gifted and talented. So what can neuroscience tell us about these individuals?

In fact, the neuroscience community has little to say on this population of highly able individuals. This may stem in part from a funding bias towards "curing the ill" rather than "observing the well", but there are also the ethical constraints of working with children. Additionally, unlike children perhaps receiving a drug treatment or behavioural intervention for a diagnosed condition, there is little advantage for any children without a diagnosis taking part in time-consuming research.

In spite of these constraints, neuroscience is beginning to venture into talent. We know from education that a gifted and talented child may show high levels of creativity, exceptional memory, rapid processing speed, high motivation and optimal performance on various activities. Further investigation into these traits has identified that some are likely to be heritable.

This has been suggested because certain skills can be mapped to particular brain regions and the development of these brain regions is highly genetically influenced. …

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