How to Raise a Genius

Source: Scientific American, Sep 2016

SMPY … suggests that early cognitive ability has more effect on achievement than either deliberate practice or environmental factors such as socio-economic status.

“The kids who test in the top 1% tend to become our eminent scientists and academics, our Fortune 500 CEOs and federal judges, senators and billionaires,” he says.

Beginning in 1921, Terman selected teenage subjects on the basis of high IQ scores, then tracked and encouraged their careers. But to Terman’s chagrin, his cohort produced only a few esteemed scientists. Among those rejected because their IQ of 129 was too low to make the cut was William Shockley, the Nobel-prizewinning co-inventor of the transistor. Physicist Luis Alvarez, another Nobel winner, was also rejected.

Stanley suspected that Terman wouldn’t have missed Shockley and Alvarez if he’d had a reliable way to test them specifically on quantitative reasoning ability.

In 1976, Stanley started to test his second cohort (a sample of 563 13-year-olds who scored in the top 0.5% on the SAT) on spatial ability—the capacity to understand and remember spatial relationships between objects. Tests for spatial ability might include matching objects that are seen from different perspectives, determining which cross-section will result when an object is cut in certain ways, or estimating water levels on tilted bottles of various shapes. Stanley was curious about whether spatial ability might better predict educational and occupational outcomes than could measures of quantitative and verbal reasoning on their own.

Follow-up surveys—at ages 18, 23, 33 and 48—backed up his hunch. A 2013 analysis found a correlation between the number of patents and peer-refereed publications that people had produced and their earlier scores on SATs and spatial-ability tests. The SAT tests jointly accounted for about 11% of the variance; spatial ability accounted for an additional 7.6%.

The findings, which dovetail with those of other recent studies, suggest that spatial ability plays a major part in creativity and technical innovation. “I think it may be the largest known untapped source of human potential,” says Lubinski, who adds that students who are only marginally impressive in mathematics or verbal ability but high in spatial ability often make exceptional engineers, architects and surgeons. “And yet, no admissions directors I know of are looking at this, and it’s generally overlooked in school-based assessments.”


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