Savant Syndrome: When Brain Injuries Create Geniuses

There are just 30 people worldwide whose brain injuries have rewired their brains in ways that allow them to perform amazing feats. But now a machine replicates the process with some success. 

What's the Latest Development?

After Derek Amato sustained brain damage by hitting his head on the bottom of a swimming pool, he began playing classical piano compositions without a single lesson. He is one of just 30 people worldwide with acquired savant syndrome. In 2003, scientists began to understand more about the syndrome by examining people who developed substantial artistic abilities while suffering from degenerative brain diseases. Wisconsin psychiatrist Darold Treffert, who keeps a registry of known savants, believes that other regions of the brain step in to compensate for a loss of function in one area, rewiring the brain in unforeseen ways.

What's the Big Idea?

As physicians come to understand more about acquired savants, might it be possible to reproduce the effect in otherwise normal individuals? A device called the Medtronic Mag Pro has shown some success in causing the kind of "brain damage" seen among acquired savants by sending electromagnetic pulses into the brain's frontal lobes. In an anecdotal case, one individual was able to draw increasingly convincing pictures of cats without possessing any drawing skills. If you could choose to be an acquired savant, perhaps sacrificing speech for another virtuoso's skill, would you? 

Photo credit:

How to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable? Build global partnerships.

Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.

Susan Silbermann, Global President of Pfizer Vaccines, looks on as a health care worker administers a vaccine in Rwanda. Photo: Courtesy of Pfizer.
  • Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
  • Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
  • Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Keep reading Show less

Why the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner won’t feature a comedian in 2019

It's the first time the association hasn't hired a comedian in 16 years.

(Photo by Anna Webber/Getty Images for Vulture Festival)
Culture & Religion
  • The 2018 WHCA ended in controversy after comedian Michelle Wolf made jokes some considered to be offensive.
  • The WHCA apologized for Wolf's jokes, though some journalists and many comedians backed the comedian and decried arguments in favor of limiting the types of speech permitted at the event.
  • Ron Chernow, who penned a bestselling biography of Alexander Hamilton, will speak at next year's dinner.
Keep reading Show less

Juice is terrible for children. Why do we keep giving it to them?

A glass of juice has as much sugar, ounce for ounce, as a full-calorie soda. And those vitamins do almost nothing.

Pixabay user Stocksnap

Quick: think back to childhood (if you've reached the scary clown you've gone too far). What did your parents or guardians give you to keep you quiet? If you're anything like most parents, it was juice. But here's the thing: juice is bad for you. 

Keep reading Show less

A new study says alcohol changes how the brain creates memories

A study on flies may hold the key to future addiction treatments.

Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • A new study suggests that drinking alcohol can affect how memories are stored away as good or bad.
  • This may have drastic implications for how addiction is caused and how people recall intoxication.
  • The findings may one day lead to a new form of treatment for those suffering from addiction.
Keep reading Show less