Why Are Intelligent Children More Distracted?

Did you know that intelligent children are more distracted? According to a study, this is the case. Keep reading to learn more.
Why Are Intelligent Children More Distracted?

Last update: 19 April, 2022

A study conducted by University College London concluded that the most intelligent people are the most distractible. This is equally applicable to intelligent children, who are more distracted than their peers with average intelligence levels.

Children with high intellectual capacity have greater difficulty concentrating, and this is due, in part, to the thousands of ideas that circulate at the same time in their small brains. These infants are more easily distracted than their peers due to their lower attentional capacity.

Do you want to know more about this? Keep reading!

Intelligent children are more distracted

The study Distractibility in Daily Life Is Reflected in the Structure and Function of Human Parietal Cortex was conducted by University College London and published in 2011 by the Journal of Neuroscience. The researchers in charge concluded that the smartest people (defined by having more gray matter in the superior parietal lobe or SPL) are also the most distracted.

Although it may seem somewhat inconsistent, it’s exactly the result of “excess” neurons that prevents smart children from maintaining concentration. According to study co-author Ryota Kanai, these people are more likely to be distracted by other ideas running around in their minds that are unrelated to the situation they’re in.

The research evaluated 145 participants between 18 and 32 years of age and the results showed that there were brain differences between those who could maintain attention and those who had difficulty in doing so.

They observed that the number of neurons in the LPS of the left hemisphere was inversely related to the ability to concentrate. Thus, the greater the amount of gray matter in that area, the greater the degree of distractibility.

As the brain matures, certain nerve connections are destroyed, while others are strengthened. This phenomenon is called synaptic pruning and is what makes it possible to concentrate more on an action. For this reason, researchers argue that children’s brains are more easily distracted than adults, due to their greater number of neural connections in the LPS.

A child playing the ukelele instead of studying.
Intelligent children tend to divert their attention easily, as many ideas come together at the same time.

Characteristics of children with high abilities

Intelligent children are those whose cognitive abilities are higher than expected for their age.

These children tend to go unnoticed, as their grades are often not so good. They even tend to get bored in class, not find motivation in the subjects, and also get distracted more easily.

Some of the characteristics of intelligent children are the following:

  • They learn very fast
  • They are very energetic
  • They usually have a very varied and wide vocabulary at their age
  • They have an extraordinary memory
  • Their thinking is intuitive, abstract, and complex
  • They like puzzles and numbers very much
  • They daydream
  • They’re easily distracted, especially when they’re bored
  • They’re sensitive children
  • They get impatient when they see others going slower than them
  • They have a great curiosity
  • They’re very creative
  • They have multiple interests
  • They tend to be competitive
  • They’re self-taught
  • They have great vitality

Intelligence and distraction

The most intelligent people, including children, usually show difficulties in organizing their ideas by priorities and this is what would lead them to get distracted more easily.

At certain times, instead of performing better, they get distracted by minor things, such as the conversation of someone nearby, what a classmate is doing, or a noise from outside.

Some of the following issues usually happen to intelligent children:

  • Boredom makes them disconnect. Sometimes, when they already know certain concepts that they’re trying to study or they have already learned them, they tend to disconnect and seem distracted.
  • They perceive sensations more intensely. That is, their senses (sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing) are much more developed. For this reason, their attention may be focused on other things, which to others go unnoticed.
  • They’re very easily distracted. They have a brain capable of perceiving everything at any time, so sometimes emotional and sensory overload can occur. They don’t pay much attention to trivial things and process less important information more slowly. Their brain tends to fatigue quickly, so it’s very common for them to appear not to listen.
  • They may be misdiagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Being very vital, energetic, and restless children or living with the need to do many activities together, this diagnosis may appear even if it’s eventually ruled out.
A child who's distracted by many different objects.
Highly intelligent children tend to have a more labile attention span than those with average intelligence. Therefore, they tend to appear energetic and hyperactive.

About intelligent and distractible children

As you’ve already seen, the most intelligent children tend to be more easily distracted than children with normal intelligence. The explanation is based, among other things, on the number of neural connections they have.

Contrary to what you might think, children with high cognitive abilities often face certain difficulties at school, as they’re ahead of their peers. They get bored quickly and don’t get anything to motivate them. They don’t do very well socially either, as they often don’t adapt. Therefore, if you suspect that your child has high intellectual abilities, we recommend that you consult a professional to corroborate their condition and help them cope with it.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Kanai, R., Dong, M. Y., Bahrami, B., & Rees, G. (2011). Distractibility in daily life is reflected in the structure and function of human parietal cortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 31(18), 6620-6626.
  • Lobo, M. P. M. (2004). Niños inteligentes: guía para desarrollar sus talentos y altas capacidades. Palabra.
  • Domínguez Rodríguez, P., López Escribano, M. D. C., Alfaro Gandarillas, E., & Pérez Sánchez, L. F. (2000). Educar hijos inteligentes: superdotación, familia y escuela. Madrid: CCS, 2000.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.