Nicole Tetreault is a compassionate neuroscientist, author, meditation teacher, and international speaker on topics of neurodiversity, neurodevelopment, creativity, mental health, and wellness. At the annual Mensa Foundation Colloquium, July 4 in Baltimore and livestreamed online, Tetreault and a panel of renowned experts and advocates of neurodiversity will discuss the topic in depth. Tetreault’s 2020 book, Insight Into a Bright Mind: A Neuroscientist’s Personal Stories of Unique Thinking, explores groundbreaking research examining the experiences of unique, creative, and intense brains through interviews, storytelling, and literary science, while advocating for new directions of human diversity and neurodiversity. The following is an excerpt from the book’s third chapter, “The Gifted Brain Rebooted.”
Interpreting the gifted brain can be like opening Pandora’s box. Every time it’s opened, something new stemming from neuroindividuality and asynchronous maturation and existence flies out. The human brain is one way to interpret giftedness, but intelligence expands beyond the brain. Intelligence is a way of interacting and exploring the world.
Gifted individuals possess enhanced intellectual, emotional, sensory, creative, and motor processing — as established by many neuroscience studies. These increased brain volumes and efficiency networks play a critical role in intelligences and intensities in gifted people. Many of these neuroscience studies center around regional brain expansions that correlate to a specific kind of intelligence. I have met a number of individuals in my life who do not express on pen and paper their intelligence or ability, and do not fit into standard achievement measures, but have nevertheless taught me things that cannot be, nor ever will be, found in a book or on an exam. It is an intelligence that is timeless. True intelligence, and giftedness, is beyond brain anatomy, it is the how and the why, the intention how one uses one’s gifts. Giftedness surpasses time; gifted people can be years ahead of their time, living many lives of wisdom. One place of humility in my own journey is my son, Spence. He will always have a profoundly greater vocabulary than I do, and every day he teaches me new words and concepts. He has been doing this since he began speaking. He has taught me things that have not come from a textbook or from his environment, but rather were innately known.
Where that comes from is something of a mystery and doesn’t really matter. Often gifted and 2e children are wired to use greater brain power, and it is our job as a society to help them cultivate their expanded abilities for good. As Sigmund Freud said, “The voice of the intellect is a soft one, but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing.”
Advancements in neuroscience have given us a great understanding of the human brain, its wiring, and of the remarkable uniqueness of each brain and the processing and the integration of unique individual experiences. Across all neuroscience studies to date, gifted individuals show differences in brain maturation in the following 11 domains. They:
1. Develop asynchronous brain maturation where, in particular, the frontal cortex expands extensively in adolescents;
2. Have expansion in brain volume for sensory, motor, visual processing, and executive functioning;
3. Possess more efficient processing at the microstructure of neurons;
4. Have greater myelin fibers; that is, exceptional connectivity across brain areas to transfer information;
5. Demonstrate differences in information processing, either rapid or delayed;
6. Learn information at an accelerated rate;
7. Experience heightened brain activation when provided with greater intellectual challenges and experience considerable flow;
8. Exhibit exceptional sensory receptivity and sensitivity;
9. Have enhanced maturation of brain areas for emotional processing;
10. Show many converging neural networks in the brain “lit up,” as seen on MRI brain scans when in flow;
11. Express flexible and novel thinking to manipulate information.
The rich and diverse brain profile among gifted individuals centers on the principle of exceptional brain power. There is one thing that is undeniable: specialized brain expansions occur in the gifted brain, whether it is a gifted artist, musician, computer programmer, dancer, comedian, etc. More important, these brain expansions are unique to the gifted individual, which highlights the importance of our openness to the specialized journey of gifted people in the world.
Another important area to consider is how gifted people use their entire brain, operating in synchrony and asynchronously for differential and specialized processing. The knowledge we have obtained about the human brain in the last 30 years is only scratching the surface of what we can begin to understand about the human range, potential, diversity, and the mind.
Remember, at the bottom of Pandora’s box is Hope, through our greater understanding we can hope and imagine ways to guide our bright children through their journey.
NICOLE TETREAULT has a B.S. in neurobiology, physiology, and behavior from the University of California, Davis; completed M.S. coursework in physiology at UCLA; and has a Ph.D. in biology from Caltech.
Reprinted with permission from Gifted Unlimited LLC ©2020