Characterizing the outcomes related to the phenotype of exceptional cognitive abilities has been feasible in recent years due to the availability of large samples of intellectually precocious adolescents identified by modern talent searches that have been followed-up longitudinally over multiple decades. The level and pattern of cognitive abilities, even among participants within the top 1% of general intellectual ability, are related to differential developmental trajectories and important life accomplishments: The likelihood of earning a doctorate, earning exceptional compensation, publishing novels, securing patents, and earning tenure at a top university (and the academic disciplines within which tenure is most likely to occur) all vary as a function of individual differences in cognitive abilities assessed decades earlier. Individual differences that distinguish the able (top 1 in 100) from the exceptionally able (top 1 in 10,000) during early adolescence matter in life, and, given the heritability of general intelligence, they suggest that understanding the genetic and environmental origins of exceptional abilities should be a high priority for behavior genetic research, especially because the results for extreme groups could differ from the rest of the population. In addition to enhancing our understanding of the etiology of general intelligence at the extreme, such inquiry may also reveal fundamental determinants of specific abilities, like mathematical versus verbal reasoning, and the distinctive phenotypes that contrasting ability patterns are most likely to eventuate in at extraordinary levels.
Exceptional cognitive abilities Intellectual talent Talent searches Talent development
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Support for this article was provided by a Research and Training Grant from the Templeton Foundation and National Institute of Child Health and Development Grant P30 HD 15051 to the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development. Earlier versions of this article benefited from comments from Kimberley Ferriman, Gregory Park, and Jonathan Wai.
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