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The secrets of exceptional memory revealed

November 24, 2016
“Exceptional minds are different to the norm, therefore we’re somewhat suspicious of them,” says Michele Juratowitch, director of Clearing Skies, a Queensland-based consultancy for gifted children. After all, she says, prodigy is from the Latin prodigium, meaning “a monster that violates the natural order”.
This week’s installment of Decoding Genius is a brain stretcher, pondering whether it’s provenance or practice that makes perfect, listen below.

Host Lily Serna meets with child prodigies and, on the other end of the spectrum, a memory champion who believes that super-skills can be acquired through dedicated training. She also talks with a psychology professor who is researching genetic links between autism and child prodigies.

The prodigal talents of the Tiessen brothers, Josh and Zac, brought them to world attention at a very young age. Josh is acknowledged as one of the world’s masters of modern realism, and Zac is a brilliant guitarist. The Canadian brothers just “came this way”, say their parents, who home-schooled them from early on.

As they graduate from being child prodigies, the Tiessen brothers are ready to shake the designation. “We just really want to focus on making great art … and letting that speak for our talent rather than this label,” Josh tells podcast host Serna. “It’s true that we’re prodigies, but it’s not defining the rest of our careers.”

Michele Juratowitch explains the different categories of genius, including savants. “These are “twice-exceptional individuals … high ability individuals, who also have an area of disability,” she says. “Often we think of people with autism, who have an area of disability in their social communication and the way in which they may do day-to-day tasks, but they also have extraordinary capacity in a certain area.” She points us to Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man, who had a mind-blowing ability with numbers.

But if you’re not born brilliant, can you grow that muscle?

Firmly in the yes-you-can training camp is Australian-based ad guru and Redesign My Brain star Todd Sampson, who spoke to GE Reports about how he’s changed his cerebral matter, essentially through brain gym work.

Australian memory champion Daniel Kilov is another brain jock who says that lifting mental weights proves that exceptional memory is a skill that can be developed. Kilov, who calls himself a “memory athlete”, takes host Serna through an amazing exercise to prove to her that she can memorise a long list of words. “The best predictor of world-class performance is time spent in deliberate practice,” says Kilov.

So if you’re you’re not as brilliant as you’d like to be, perhaps you should have listened to your mother when she told you to go practice! It’s never too late...