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What is a Genius Savant?

A genius savant possesses extraordinary skills in a specific area, often alongside developmental differences. Their abilities, ranging from mathematical marvels to artistic wonders, defy ordinary understanding and hint at the untapped potential of the human mind. Imagine possessing a key to unlock hidden talents within. What could we learn from the enigmatic minds of savants? Let's explore their world together.
A Kaminsky
A Kaminsky

A genius savant may be something of a misnomer. Geniuses are usually people with very high intelligence. A savant is usually someone who has extraordinary mental abilities in a particular area. The individual on whom the movie “Rain Man” was based is a savant. Those who are rated geniuses are usually capable of living independently. A savant may not be able to do so.

The genius savant is probably most accurately a “savant.” Not every savant has other developmental issues, but most do. Most people think of an autistic person when they think of a genius savant. They think of a person who does not interact normally with others, who has obsessive-compulsive behaviors that make the person difficult to live with, etc.

A genius savant might be someone who can tackle complex mathematical problems with ease.
A genius savant might be someone who can tackle complex mathematical problems with ease.

A good example of a genius savant is Daniel Tammet of England. Tammet can do lightning-fast mathematical calculations in his head. Another might be able to recall a piece of music perfectly, after hearing it only one time. Most humans are not able to even approach these feats of mental skill.

The genius savant may be born that way or may experience some sort of brain injury that leaves behind this result. Daniel Tammet suffered an epileptic seizure when he was four years old. Afterwards, he found he had an amazing mental ability to do math exercises and count huge numbers. As an example of the handicaps many a genius savant has, Tammet cannot drive or even walk on the beach. His compulsion to count everything precludes him from either activity.

Not every savant has other developmental issues, but most do.
Not every savant has other developmental issues, but most do.

The genius savant is usually left to pursue whatever fields are open to someone with his peculiar abilities, assuming he or she is able to hold down a job. However, if the person is unable to care for himself and live independently, parents will need to make arrangements for this situation early on.

It is not known exactly what causes a person to be a savant, and why some types of brain injury may play a role. Scientists studying the phenomenon say it could be that a brain injury forces one side of the brain to take on the duties of the other half and the savant syndrome is the result. The best treatment available is occupational and life skills therapy, intended to help the person live as independently as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a genius savant?

A genius savant may not be able to live independently.
A genius savant may not be able to live independently.

A genius savant, often referred to simply as a savant, is an individual who demonstrates profound and exceptional abilities in specific areas, despite having a neurodevelopmental disorder such as autism spectrum disorder. These areas can include memory, arithmetic, musical ability, or artistic skills. According to the Wisconsin Medical Society, savants may have skills that are remarkable even when compared to individuals who do not have such developmental disorders. The condition is rare, with estimated occurrences in autistic individuals ranging from one in ten to one in two hundred.

How does savant syndrome differ from typical genius?

Savant syndrome differs from typical genius in that savants often have significant developmental disabilities alongside their extraordinary talents. While a typical genius might have a high IQ and a broad range of intellectual capabilities, savants usually excel in very specific areas. Their skills are often automatic and innate, rather than being developed through extensive study or practice. The Institute for the Study of Peak States, for example, notes that savant skills are typically found in areas like rapid calculation, artistic ability, and musical talent, and are present from a very young age.

What causes savant syndrome?

The exact cause of savant syndrome is not fully understood, but it is believed to be related to differences in brain development or structure. Some theories suggest that savant abilities emerge as a result of compensation for other deficits, with the brain reallocating resources to develop extraordinary skills in a specific domain. Research by Dr. Darold Treffert, a leading expert on savant syndrome, suggests that such abilities may be a result of dormant potential within the brain that is somehow activated in savants.

Can someone become a savant later in life?

While most savants are born with their unique abilities or develop them in early childhood, there are rare cases of acquired savant syndrome, where individuals develop savant-like skills following a brain injury or disease. Dr. Bruce Miller of the University of California, San Francisco, has documented instances where patients with frontotemporal dementia developed new artistic or musical abilities as their condition progressed, suggesting that brain changes can sometimes unlock savant-level talents.

Is it possible to teach or enhance savant-like abilities in people without savant syndrome?

Enhancing or teaching savant-like abilities in people without savant syndrome is a subject of ongoing research and debate. Some scientists, such as Dr. Allan Snyder from the Centre for the Mind at the University of Sydney, have explored the possibility of temporarily enhancing cognitive functions in healthy individuals using techniques like transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). However, these induced abilities are not typically at the same level as those of true savants, and ethical considerations about the use of such technologies remain.

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Discussion Comments

cafe41

@BrickBack - There are really a lot of misconceptions about prodigious savants. I was reading about savants and many people feel that their talent is natural and they do not have to cultivate it, but that is not true. They need encouragement and practice and their interest in their talent will carry them through.

Many people don’t realize that when they see savant with amazing talents it really took a lot of time to develop that skill level. For example a savant with musical talent did not just wake up one day and play like that.

The difference between a savant and an average person is that the average person could never develop the same level of skill and talent that a savant can no matter how much they practiced.

BrickBack

@Mutsy - I think you are right. I was reading about a young girl that was a savant with autism. She was born blind and was three months premature, but she has extraordinary musical talent. She was featured on several television programs because when she was ten she began studying music at the University of South Carolina. She was able to play over 9,000 musical compositions.

I think that it is great that this little girl had this special gift. I am sure that her parents are really proud of her.

mutsy

@Anon118044 - I think that what you are describing is someone with a genius brain, not a savant. A savant is gifted in one area, but a person with very superior talent and cognitive abilities is gifted and highly intelligent in many areas. A savant has a lot of cognitive deficiencies as well as problems relating to people and are generally more introverted. They would not be considered extroverted like the person you described.

anon136713

Who would such a person contact?

anon118044

What about who has savant abilities and more than five to six different areas and is also socially skilled?

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    • A genius savant might be someone who can tackle complex mathematical problems with ease.
      By: olly
      A genius savant might be someone who can tackle complex mathematical problems with ease.
    • Not every savant has other developmental issues, but most do.
      By: Paul Cotney
      Not every savant has other developmental issues, but most do.
    • A genius savant may not be able to live independently.
      By: Miriam Dörr
      A genius savant may not be able to live independently.