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The 1992 book Terman's Kids, by Joel Shurkin, discusses the century-long study of the Termanites.[1]

In genius studies, Termanites (LH:1), aka “Termites” or “Terman’s children”, refers to a group of 1,528 children (856 males and 672 females) collected, between 1921 to 1928, by psychologist Lewis Terman, at Stanford University, mean age 11, or about age 6 to 12 or so, labeled as "gifted" by Terman, and assigned with "genius IQs" (140+), mean IQ 151, with 77 between 177 and 200, i.e. indirectly told they had genius intellects, who where then followed, over the next 90-years, and the end of which none actually became "geniuses" as adults.


In 1869, Francis Galton, Hereditary Genius, a book aiming to be a scientific attempt to study genius and greatness, studied a large number of famous people, in attempts to prove that "genius" was inherited.[2] This was the first attempt to see of genius is born or made? If "genius is in the genes" as we might say, in modern terms. Retrospectively, in analysis of the top 2000 minds and geniuses, genius families are very rare; hence, genius does not seem to be something in the genes or pass along to children or inherited.

In 1921 to 1928, Lewis Terman, at Stanford University, and his team of assistants and psychology graduate students, e.g. Catherine Cox, Maud Merrill, and Florence Goodenough, tested children throughout various public schools of California, attempting to find, via intelligence testing, specifically his Stanford-Binet, National Intelligence Test, and the Army Alpha test, the top 1,000 most intelligent children.

The result was a group of 1,528 children (856 males and 672 females), all generally around 11 years of age, who tested with mean IQ of 151, with 77 claiming IQs between 177 and 200. These children were subjected to all sorts of additional tests and measures, repeatedly so, until they reached middle age. The result was the monumental Genetic Studies of Genius, five volumes appearing between 1925 and 1959.[3]

In 2000, some two hundred of “Terman’s kids” were still existive and returning questionnaires to the Stanford psychology department.[4]

As of 2018, none of the 1,528 children that Terman found and assigned with "genius IQs", actually became "geniuses"? Genius studies scholar Dean Simonton comments on this:

“Now comes the bad news: None of them grew up to become what many people would consider unambiguous exemplars of genius. Their extraordinary intelligence was channeled into somewhat more ordinary endeavors as professors, doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers, and other professionals. Furthermore, many Termites failed to become highly successful in any intellectual capacity. These comparative failures were far less likely to graduate from college or to attain professional or graduate degrees, and far more likely to enter occupations that required no higher education whatsoever. We’re talking only of the males here, too. It would be unfair to consider the females who were born at a time in which all women were expected to become homemakers, no matter how bright. Whatever their differences, intelligence’ was not a determining factor in those who made it and those who didn’t.”
Dean Simonton (2018), “Your IQ Matters Less Than You Think” [3]

We also note that two children who took Terman’s test, but did NOT make the cut to be included in his “genius sample” study, namely Luis Alvarez (IQ:160|#724), asteroid impact extinction theorist, and William Shockley (IQ:175|#296), famous silicon valley diode inventor, actually became so-called ranked genius minds, in adulthood, as shown by their top 2000 minds IQs and rankings.

A few Termanites, we point out, did become became “notable”, e.g. Ephraim Engleman (1911-2015), who at age 6 was a violin prodigy who was invited into the Terman study, and went to medical school, and did notable work in the field of rheumatology.[5] Also, Edward Dmytryk (1908-1999), a noted Hollywood film director, Jess Oppenheimer (1913-1988), noted for creating, producing, and being head writer of the I Love Lucy show.[6]

Intelligence matters | IQ tests don't matter

The conclusion we can make, out of all of this, is that there is no "test" that can be given to a child to determine or "predict" if they are going to become a genius in adulthood. Hence, for a psychologist or a child's parent to tell a child that they have a "genius IQ" is a false truth or misleading information.

Moreover, many psychologists themselves are confused about this, particularly in respect to "terminology". Take Simonton's concluding statement: "intelligence is NOT a determining factor" to becoming a genius? This is a confused statement, to say the least. A "genius", by definition, is highly intelligent, by virtue of the fact that they have generated something new and phenomenal or solved some great problem, or produced some great "work". Compare what Edward Wilson has to say on the matter:

Work accomplished on the frontier defines genius, not just getting there. In fact, both accomplishments along the frontier and the final eureka moment are achieved more by entrepreneurship and hard work than by ‘native intelligence’.”
— Edward Wilson (2013), Letters to a Young Scientist (pgs. 78-79) [7]

Technically, "work" is defined as a "force" moving a "body" through a unit distance. This is called the "work transmission principle" (Coriolis, 1829).[8] Hence, for Terman to define all these 1,528 children as "geniuses", based on the results from his personally derived "test", even though the forces of the universe had not yet had the time to move the bodies (or minds) of those children, to the distance at which they could reach the point of having done some amount of "work" that defines what we call "genius", goes against the laws of the universe.

Hence, we can say that a child is "bright", at a young age, as was Maxwell and Christopher Hirata at age 3, or that they have a certain level of intelligence that is "native", being associated with the place or circumstances of a person's birth, but to tell a child that they have a certain number, above 140, that certifies or defines them as a "genius", if factually incorrect, as the Terman study has shown. Hence, being bright or clever, in youth, is one thing, but this alone will not "determine" whether or not one become a genius. But, to say that "intelligence" is not a determining factor, is not correct, per reason that intelligence and genius go hand in hand. The problem, or rather confusion, we see evidenced by the Termanites, is that it is difficult to recognize genius, and also that issues such as "drive", level of susceptibility to "boredom", early parental death and genius, among others, plays a major role.


  1. Shurkin, Joel. (1992). Terman’s Kids: the Groundbreaking Study of How the Gifted Grow Up. Publisher.
  2. Galton, Francis. (1869). Hereditary Genius: an Inquiry into its Law and Consequences. Macmillan.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Simonton, Dean. (2018). “Your IQ Matters Less Than You Think: In studies of children and historical figures, IQ falls short as a measure of success”, Nautilus, Oct 4.
  4. Mitchell, Leslie. (2000). “The Vexing Legacy of Lewis Terman: The legendary Stanford psychologist helped hundreds of gifted children and showed America that it’s okay to be smart. But behind his crusade was a disturbing social vision”, Stanford Magazine, Jul Aug.
  5. Cool, Kevin. (2014). “The Last of a Class”, Stanford Magazine, Aug 6.
  6. Leslie, Mitchell. (2000). “A Tale of Two Termites”, Stanford Magazine, Jul/Aug.
  7. Wilson, Edward O. (2013). Letters to a Young Scientist (IQ, pg. 79). Liveright.
  8. Principle of the transmission of work – Hmolpedia 2020.

Further reading

  • Hulbert, Ann. (2019). Off the Charts: the Hidden Lives and Lessons of American Child Prodigies. Knopf.

External links

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