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Mental Health

The Prodigy Paradox

Baby Einstein
Creative Commons

In a society which rewards brains over brawn, who better than a prodigy to place your bets on? The answer may surprise you.  

Bobby Fischer was terrible at everything  except chess. His entire life was punctuated by extreme paranoia, bouts of seclusion, and cascading, erratic behavior. Ted Kaczynski, a child math and science prodigy… I don’t have to tell you how that one worked out.  

Thomas Chatterton was writing publishable poetry by the age of 12, and in the immediately ensuing years, wrote work that left its mark on the literature and influenced the  romantic movement. He took his own life with arsenic three months shy of 18. 

But are all the stories so extreme? This hour, we explore the advantages and considerable disadvantages of being born with a gifted mind.

Please leave comments below, email us at colin@wnpr.org, or tweet us @wnprcolin. 

This show was produced by Josh Nilaya.


  • Ellen Winner: Professor & chair of the psychology department at Boston College. Author of "Gifted Children: Myths and Realities"
  • Jennifer Drake: Assistant professor of psychology at Brooklyn College CUNY. A researcher on the link between autism and artistically gifted children
  • Amanda Mancino & Nigel Roth: Two parents who're exploring innovative ways of educating their gifted children while ensuring them a well-balanced childhood
  • Alissa Quart:  A former prodigy and currently a journalist, cultural critic and author of "Hothouse Kids: The Dilemma of the Gifted Child"

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