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  • Christy A. George, LMFT, SEP

The Neuroscience of Gifted Brains: How They're Different

Brain, Green, Gifted Brain, Neuroscience
Brain Development

Gifted people possess exceptional abilities that are beyond the norm for their age or grade level. They may have advanced knowledge, skills, or creativity that set them apart from their peers, and typically have an IQ significantly higher than average in one or more areas. Do you ever wonder what makes their brains different? In recent years, neuroscience has learned more about the structural and functional differences in the brains of gifted children and adults.

One of the most striking differences found through imaging technology, is the increased volume and connectivity in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for executive functions such as attention, planning, decision-making, and working memory. Gifted people have been found to have greater activation and efficiency in this area, which allows them to process information quickly, make connections, and solve complex problems.

At the same time, research also suggests these pathways may form at different rates in developing gifted minds than in the brains of their typical peers. This means a gifted child may be highly creative or be great at solving complex problems, but struggles to plan for the future, manage time or start a mundane task. This can be explained by the differences researchers have observed in the brains of some gifted children versus their typical peers. They noticed, the brains of typical children begin pruning at approximately 9 years old. This means average brains are more selective about the new information they retain, which allows some higher level executive functioning to start developing. These are tasks like planning, task initiation and time management. For some gifted children, their brains do not start this process until their early teen years. which means their brains rapidly absorb and retain more information for a longer amount of time than average, which leads to higher intelligence and faster mastery with the trade off of delayed development of the executive functioning skills.

Another difference is the increased activity and connectivity in the default mode network (DMN), a network of brain regions that is active when the brain is at rest or not focused on a task. The DMN is thought to play a role in self-reflection, introspection, and creativity. Gifted individuals have been found to have stronger connectivity within the DMN, which may contribute to their ability to generate novel ideas and solutions, and can contribute to gifted people being more likely to have frequent existential crisises throughout their lifetime.

Gifted children and adults also show differences in the processing of sensory information. They may have increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli, such as sound or light, which can be overwhelming or distracting in certain environments. It is suggested that many gifted people may also have a greater ability to filter out irrelevant information and focus on what is important in chaotic enviornments.

Another area of difference is the way in which gifted people process emotional information. They may be more sensitive to emotional cues and have a greater ability to recognize and regulate their own emotions as adults. This may be related to the increased connectivity between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, a brain region that plays a key role in emotion processing.

In contrast, children, teens and young adults, may become overwhelmed by their intense emotions as their highly sensitive brains and nervous systems are not fully developed. Young children also typically lack the language to verbally express what they are experiencing emotionally. Researchers have observed, many gifted children process information emotionally before they process it cognitively. which can result in intense graviation toward interests, strong resistence toward undesirable tasks, and emotional fatigue and overwhelm. Keeping this in mind, gifted children, teens and young adults may need extra guidance and support from patient, understanding adults, as they move through the stages of development.

Despite these differences, it is important to note that giftedness is a complex and multifaceted trait that cannot be reduced to any single neurological feature. Additionally, the differences observed in the brains of gifted individuals may not always be advantageous, and may come with their own set of challenges.

Neuroscience has provided us with insights into the structural and functional differences in the brains of gifted individuals. These differences may contribute to their exceptional abilities in areas such as problem-solving, creativity, and emotional processing. However, they may also present challenges in areas such as sensory processing and social-emotional development. Understanding these differences can help us provide appropriate support and resources for gifted people to thrive and reach their full potential.

Monarch Butterfly, Mindfulness, rock

About the Author:

Christy, is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, practicing in San Diego, California. She has nearly 15 years of experrience working with children, teens, parents, families, couples and individual adults with complex psychological and relationship problems. She specializes in the needs of gifted, bright and high achieving people, as well as those who have suffered past trauma. Christy uses an eclectic approach, meeting the needs of whomever she is working with. Her work addresses the needs of the whole person, incorporating mind and body.

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