The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Left-handedness and divergent thinking

My son, Ainan, 7, is left-handed. Curious to what degree left-handedness may contribute to his creative, prodigious gifts, I have been doing some research. What I have found is of interest to any parent of a left-handed person, anyone who is left-handed, or anyone who is interested in the nature of giftedness, talent and genius.

A study by Dr. Stanley Coren entitled: "Differences in Divergent Thinking as a Function of Handedness and Sex" in The American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 108, No. 3 (Autumn, 1995), pp. 311-325 doi:10.2307/1422892 looked into the matter of whether left-handedness had any association with divergent thinking, and how this was correlated with the sex of the left-handed person.

Various tests were administered to the subjects. Test 1 concerned Alternate Uses; test 2 was of Object Synthesis and Test 3 was of Ideational Flexibility. The final test was a test of convergent thinking (traditionally measured by IQ tests).

There was no correlation between left-handedness and performance on the Alternate Uses test. However, on the second and third tests (which were both measures of kinds of divergent thinking), there was a strong, positive correlation between left-handedness and performance in the test. Interestingly, the more left-handed (or sinistral, as it is termed, scientifically) the subject the better their performance in these tests. The fourth test of convergent thinking was also revealing in that there was no benefit to sinistrality in this test: subjects of both left and right-handedness performed similarly.

This experiment shows that left-handers have a distinct advantage in tasks involving divergent thinking, compared to right-handers - but show no difference in their ability to handle convergent tasks.

What, practically speaking does this mean? Well, one conclusion, that is glaring for me, is that conventional tests of ability of left-handed kids, might overlook their gifts. You see, IQ tests only address convergent thinking ability. Left-handers have a strength in divergent thinking. Thus testing for gifted programmes and the like would tend to underestimate the left-handed children because their strength - divergent thinking - will not reveal itself in conventional testing. Thus a gifted child, in the truest sense of the word, might be overlooked if they are left-handed, for they will have a hidden talent, not obvious to the conventional tests.

This evidence that left-handed people are stronger in divergent thinking agrees perfectly with what I have observed in Ainan since his birth. He has a very strong aptitude for divergent thinking (allied to a very strong aptitude for convergent thinking, too, I might add). This divergence of thinking shows itself in everything that he does - he is always coming up with new ideas and new ways and new understandings, while learning, observing or just thinking aloud to me.

Interestingly, history has many examples of good divergent thinkers who were left-handed: Leonardo da Vinci, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Picasso, and H.G. Wells, for instance. It is telling that the two greatest physicists of all time, should both have been left-handed. Curious, that.

So, if your child is left-handed, do not be concerned, be happy - or even excited. Left-handedness confers a strength in divergent thinking that equips the gifted child to think in new and better ways. Such a child may grow up to do many things not open to the conventionally gifted child whose strength is convergent thinking alone.

By the way, Stanley Coren's study showed NO correlation between handedness and divergent thinking for girls. This correlation only applied to the boys.

(If you would like to read more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, 7 years and 8 months, a scientific child prodigy, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, 4 years and 1 month, or Tiarnan, 18 months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, genetics, left-handedness, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, gifted adults, and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 6:42 PM 


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