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Intellectual giftedness

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Title: Intellectual giftedness  
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Intellectual giftedness

Intellectual giftedness is an intellectual ability significantly higher than average. It is a characteristic of children, variously defined, that motivates differences in school programming. It is thought to persist as a trait into adult life, with various consequences studied in longitudinal studies of giftedness over the last century. There is no generally agreed definition of giftedness for either children or adults, but most school placement decisions and most longitudinal studies over the course of individual lives have been based on IQ in the top 2 percent of the population, that is above IQ 130.

The various definitions of intellectual giftedness include either general high ability or specific abilities. For example, by some definitions an intellectually gifted person may have a striking talent for mathematics without equally strong language skills. In particular, the relationship between artistic ability or musical ability and the high academic ability usually associated with high IQ scores is still being explored, with some authors referring to all of those forms of high ability as "giftedness," while other authors distinguish "giftedness" from "talent." There is still much controversy and much research on the topic of how adult performance unfolds from trait differences in childhood, and what educational and other supports best help the development of adult giftedness.


  • Identification 1
    • Overview 1.1
    • Definitions 1.2
    • Identification methods 1.3
  • Developmental theory 2
  • From a multiple intelligences perspective 3
  • Characteristics 4
  • Savantism 5
  • Gifted minority students in the United States 6
  • Twice-exceptional 7
  • Social and emotional issues 8
    • Isolation 8.1
    • Perfectionism 8.2
    • Underachievement 8.3
    • Depression 8.4
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • Bibliography 11
  • External links 12



The formal identification of giftedness first emerged after the development of IQ tests for school placement.[1][2][3] It has since become an important issue for schools, as the instruction of gifted students often presents special challenges. During the twentieth century, gifted children were often classified via IQ tests; other identification procedures have been proposed but are only used in a minority of cases in most public schools in the English-speaking world.[4][5][6] Developing useful identification procedures for students who could benefit from a more challenging school curriculum is an ongoing problem in school administration.[7][8]

Because of the key role that gifted education programs in schools play in the identification of gifted individuals, both children and adults, it is worthwhile to examine how schools define the term "gifted".


For many years, psychometricians and psychologists, following in the footsteps of Lewis Terman in 1916, equated giftedness with high IQ. This "legacy" survives to the present day, in that giftedness and high IQ continue to be equated in some conceptions of giftedness. Since that early time, however, other researchers (e.g., Raymond Cattell, J. P. Guilford, and Louis Leon Thurstone) have argued that intellect cannot be expressed in such a unitary manner, and have suggested more multifaceted approaches to intelligence.

Research conducted in the 1980s and 1990s has provided data which support notions of multiple components to intelligence. This is particularly evident in the reexamination of "giftedness" by Sternberg and Davidson in their collection of articles Conceptions of Giftedness. The many different conceptions of giftedness presented, although distinct, are interrelated in several ways. Most of the investigators define giftedness in terms of multiple qualities, not all of which are intellectual. IQ scores are often viewed as inadequate measures of giftedness.[9] Motivation, high self-concept, and creativity are key qualities in many of these broadened conceptions of giftedness.

Joseph Renzulli's (1978) "three ring" definition of giftedness is one frequently mentioned conceptualization of giftedness. Renzulli's definition, which defines gifted behaviors rather than gifted individuals, is composed of three components as follows: Gifted behavior consists of behaviors that reflect an interaction among three basic clusters of human traits—above average ability, high levels of task commitment, and high levels of creativity.[10] Individuals capable of developing gifted behavior are those possessing or capable of developing this composite set of traits and applying them to any potentially valuable area of human performance. Persons who manifest or are capable of developing an interaction among the three clusters require a wide variety of educational opportunities and services that are not ordinarily provided through regular instructional programs.

In Identifying Gifted Children: A Practical Guide, Susan K. Johnsen explains that gifted children all exhibit the potential for high performance in the areas included in the United States' federal definition of gifted and talented students:[11]

There is a federal government statutory definition of gifted and talented students in the United States.

The term "gifted and talented" when used in respect to students, children, or youth means students, children, or youth who give evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop such capabilities." (P.L. 103–382, Title XIV, p. 388)

This definition has been adopted partially or completely by the majority of the individual states in the United States (which have the main responsibility for education policy as compared to the federal government). Most states have a definition similar to that used in the State of Texas:

"gifted and talented student" means a child or youth who performs at or shows the potential for performing at a remarkably high level of accomplishment when compared to others of the same age, experience, or environment, and who
  • exhibits high performance capability in an intellectual, creative, or artistic area;
  • possesses an unusual capacity for leadership; or
  • excels in a specific academic field." (74th legislature of the State of Texas, Chapter 29, Subchapter D, Section 29.121)

The major characteristics of these definitions are (a) the diversity of areas in which performance may be exhibited (e.g., intellectual, creativity, artistic, leadership, academically), (b) the comparison with other groups (e.g., those in general education classrooms or of the same age, experience, or environment), and (c) the use of terms that imply a need for development of the gift (e.g., capability and potential).

Identification methods

IQ scores can vary for the same person, so a person does not always belong to the same IQ score range each time the person is tested. (IQ score table data and pupil pseudonyms adapted from description of KABC-II norming study cited in Kaufman 2009.[12])
Asher 90 95 111
Brianna 125 110 105
Colin 100 93 101
Danica 116 127 118
Elpha 93 105 93
Fritz 106 105 105
Georgi 95 100 90
Hector 112 113 103
Imelda 104 96 97
Jose 101 99 86
Keoku 81 78 75
Leo 116 124 102

Many schools use a variety of assessments of students' capability and potential when identifying gifted children.[11] These may include portfolios of student work, classroom observations, achievement tests, and IQ test scores. Most educational professionals accept that no single criterion can be used in isolation to accurately identify a gifted child.

One of the criteria used in identification may be an IQ test score. Until the late 1960s, when “giftedness” was defined by an IQ score, a school district simply set an arbitrary score (usually in the 130 range) and a student either did or did not “make the cut”. It is no longer accepted today in academic circles; however, it's still used by many school districts because it is simple and not entirely without merit. Although a high IQ score is not the sole indicator of giftedness, usually if a student has a very high IQ, that is a significant indicator of high academic potential.[13] Because of this consideration, if a student scores highly on an IQ test, but performs at an average or below average level academically, school officials may think that this issue warrants further investigation as an example of underachievement.[14] However, scholars of educational testing point out that a test-taker's scores on any two tests may vary, so a lower score on an achievement test than on an IQ test neither necessarily indicates that the test-taker is underachieving nor necessarily that the school curriculum is underchallenging.[15]

[17][18] Older versions of the Stanford-Binet test, now obsolete, and the Cattell IQ test purport to yield IQ scores of 180 or higher, but those scores are not comparable to scores on currently normed tests. The Stanford-Binet Third Revision (Form L-M) yields consistently higher numerical scores for the same test-taker than scores obtained on current tests. This has prompted some authors on identification of gifted children to promote the Stanford-Binet form L-M, which has long been obsolete,[19] as the only test with a sufficient ceiling to identify the exceptionally and profoundly gifted, despite the Stanford-Binet L-M never having been normed on a representative national sample.[20] Because the instrument is outdated, current results derived from the Stanford-Binet L-M generate inflated and inaccurate scores.[21] The IQ assessment of younger children remains debated.

While many people believe giftedness is a strictly quantitative difference, measurable by IQ tests, some authors on the experience of bring have described giftedness as a fundamentally different way of perceiving the world, which in turn affects every experience had by the gifted individual. This view is doubted by some scholars who have closely studied gifted children longitudinally.[22]

Developmental theory

Gifted children may develop asynchronously: their minds are often ahead of their physical growth, and specific cognitive and emotional functions are often developed differently (or to differing extents) at different stages of development. One frequently cited example of asynchronicity in early cognitive development is Albert Einstein, who did not speak until the age of four, but whose later fluency and accomplishments belied this initial delay. Psychologist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker theorized that, rather than viewing Einstein's (and other famously gifted late-talking individuals) adult accomplishments as existing distinct from, or in spite of, his early language deficits, and rather than viewing Einstein's lingual delay itself as a "disorder", it may be that Einstein's genius and his delay in speaking were developmentally intrinsic to one another.[23]

It has been said that gifted children may advance more quickly through stages established by post-Freudian developmentalists such as Jean Piaget.[24] Gifted individuals also experience the world differently, resulting in certain social and emotional issues.

Francoy Gagne's (2000) Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent (DMGT) is a developmental theory that distinguishes giftedness from talent, offering explanation on how outstanding natural abilities (gifts) develop into specific expert skills (talents).[25] According to DMGT theory, "one cannot become talented without first being gifted, or almost so".[26] There are six components that can interact in countless and unique ways that foster the process of moving from having natural abilities (giftedness) to systematically developed skills.

These components consist of the gift (G) itself, chance (C), environmental catalyst (EC), intrapersonal catalyst (IC), learning/practice (LP) and the outcome of talent (T).[26] It is important to know that (C), (IC), and (EC) can facilitate but can also hinder the learning and training of becoming talented. The learning/practice is the moderator. It is through the interactions, both environmental and intrapersonal that influence the process of learning and practice along with/without chance that natural abilities are transformed into talents.

From a multiple intelligences perspective

Multiple intelligences has been associated with giftedness or overachievement of some developmental areas (Colangelo, 2003).[27] Multiple intelligences has been described as an attitude towards learning, instead of techniques or strategies (Cason, 2001).[28]

There are said to be eight Intelligences, or different areas in which people assimilate or learn about the world around them: interpersonal, intrapersonal, bodily-kinesthetic, linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, naturalistic, and spatial-visual. If the Theory of Multiple Intelligences is applied to educational curriculum, by providing lesson plans, themes, and programs in a way that all students are encouraged to develop their stronger area, and at the same time educators provide opportunities to enhance the learning process in the less strong areas, academic success may be attainable for all children in a school system.

Howard Gardner proposed in Frames of Mind (Gardner 1983/1994) that intellectual giftedness may be present in areas other than the typical intellectual realm. The concept of multiple intelligences (MI) makes the field aware of additional potential strengths and proposes a variety of curricular methods.

Gardner suggests MI in the following areas: Linguistic, logico-mathematical, musical, spatial, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic and existential.

Identification of gifted students with MI is a challenge since there is no simple test to give to determine giftedness of MI. Assessing by observation is potentially most accurate, but potentially highly subjective. MI theory can be applied to not only gifted students, but it can be a lens through which all students can be assessed. This more global perspective may lead to more child-centered instruction and meet the needs of a greater number of children (Colangelo, 2003).[27]

This perspective has been criticized on the grounds that it is ad hoc: that Gardner is not expanding the definition of the word "intelligence", but rather denies the existence of intelligence as traditionally understood, and instead uses the word "intelligence" where other people have traditionally used words like "ability" and "aptitude".


Generally, gifted individuals learn more quickly, deeply, and broadly than their peers. Gifted children may learn to read early and operate at the same level as normal children who are significantly older. The gifted tend to demonstrate high reasoning ability, creativity, curiosity, a large vocabulary, and an excellent memory. They can often master concepts with few repetitions. They may also be perfectionistic, and may frequently question authority. Some have trouble relating to or communicating with their peers because of disparities in vocabulary size (especially in the early years), personality, interests, and motivation. As children, they may prefer the company of older children or adults.[29]

Giftedness is frequently not evenly distributed throughout all intellectual spheres; an individual may excel in solving logic problems yet be a poor speller; another gifted individual may be able to read and write at a far above-average level yet have trouble with mathematics.

It is possible there are different types of giftedness with their own unique features, just as there are different types of developmental delay.

Giftedness may become noticeable in individuals at different points of development. While early development (i.e. speaking or reading at a very young age) usually comes with giftedness, it is not a determinant of giftedness.


Savants are individuals who perform exceptionally in a single field of learning. More often savant and savantism describes people with a single field of learning well beyond what is considered normal, even among the gifted community. Autistic savantism refers to the exceptional abilities occasionally exhibited by people with autism or other pervasive developmental disorders. The term was introduced in a 1978 article in Psychology Today describing this condition.

Gifted minority students in the United States

While White students represent the majority of students enrolled in gifted programs, Black and Hispanic students constitute a percentage less than their enrollment in school.[30] For example, statistics from 1993 indicate that in the U.S., Black students represented 16.2% of public school students, but only constituted 8.4% of students enrolled in gifted education programs. Similarly, while Hispanic students represented 9% of public school students, these students only represented 4.7% of those identified as gifted.[31] However, Asian students make up only 3.6% of the student body, yet constitute 14% in the gifted programs.

In their 2004 study, “Addressing the Achievement Gap Between Minority and Nonminority Children by Increasing Access to Gifted Programs” Olszewski-Kubilius et al. write that minority students are “less likely to be nominated by teachers as potential candidates for gifted programs and, if nominated, are less likely to be selected for the program, particularly when such traditional measures as I.Q. and achievement tests are used for identification.”[32]

This underrepresentation of such students in gifted programs is attributed to a multiplicity of factors including cultural bias of testing procedures, population differences in IQ, selective referrals and educator bias, and a reliance on deficit-based paradigms.[33] To address the inequities in assessment procedures, researchers suggest the use of multiple tests and alternative methods of testing, such as performance-based assessment measures, oral-expressiveness measures as well as non-verbal ability assessments (such as Naglieri Nonverbal Abilities Tests (NNAT) or Raven’s Matrix Analogies Tests.[34]

Gifted students of color experience success when multicultural content is incorporated in the curriculum and furthermore when the curriculum itself is designed to be culturally and linguistically compatible.[30] A culturally diverse curriculum and instruction encourages gifted minority students to experience a sense of belonging and validation as scholars.[35] Furthermore, the educator's role in this process is significant as Lee et al. argue that "[t]eacher awareness and understanding of students' racial and cultural differences and their ability to incorporate multicultural perspectives into curricular content and instructional techniques may counter gifted minority students' discomfort in being one of the few minority students in gifted programs.”[35]


The term twice exceptional was coined by James J. Gallagher to denote students who are both gifted and have disabilities.[36][37] People have known about twice exceptional students for thirty years; however, identification and program strategies remain ambiguous.[38] These students need remediation for their learning deficits and enhancement for their strengths to achieve.[38] Twice exceptional students are considered at risk because they are hidden within the general population of their educational environment, and usually viewed as either under-achievers or average learners.[38][39]

Early identification and intervention is critical; however, giftedness in the twice-exceptional population is often identified later than in the average population as it is masked by the disability. The disabilities may include auditory processing weaknesses, sensory motor integration issues, visual perceptual difficulties, spatial disorientation, dyslexia, and attention deficits. Recognition of learning difficulties among the gifted is made extremely difficult by virtue of their ability to compensate. Among the signs that the student may be twice-exceptional are apparent inconsistencies between abilities and results, deficits in short term memory and attention, and negative behaviors such as being sarcastic, negative, or aggressive.[40]

Social and emotional issues


Isolation is one of the main challenges faced by gifted individuals, especially those with no social network of gifted peers. In order to gain popularity, gifted children will often try to hide their abilities to win social approval. Strategies include underachievement (discussed below) and the use of less sophisticated vocabulary when among same-age peers than when among family members or other trusted individuals.[41]

The isolation experienced by gifted individuals may not be caused by giftedness itself, but by society's response to giftedness. Plucker and Levy have noted that, "in this culture, there appears to be a great pressure for people to be 'normal' with a considerable stigma associated with giftedness or talent."[42] To counteract this problem, gifted education professionals recommend creating a peer group based on common interests and abilities. The earlier this occurs, the more effective it is likely to be in preventing isolation.[43][44]

Research suggests that gifted adolescents might have deficiencies in social valuation, mentalization,[45] and social adaptive learning.[46]


Perfectionism is another issue for gifted individuals. It is encouraged by the fact that gifted individuals tend to be easily successful in much of what they do.

Healthy perfectionism refers to having high standards, a desire to achieve, conscientiousness, or high levels of responsibility. It is likely to be a virtue rather than a problem, even if gifted children may have difficulty with healthy perfectionism because they set standards that would be appropriate to their mental age (the level at which they think), but they cannot always meet them because they are bound to a younger body, or the social environment is restrictive. In such cases, outsiders may call some behavior perfectionism, while for the gifted this may be their standard.

"Perfectionism becomes desirable when it stimulates the healthy pursuit of excellence."[47]

Unhealthy perfectionism stems from equating one's worth as a human being to one's achievements, and the simultaneous belief that any work less than perfect is unacceptable and will lead to criticism. Because perfection in the majority of human activities is neither desirable, nor possible, this cognitive distortion creates self-doubt, performance anxiety and ultimately procrastination.

The unhealthy perfectionism can be triggered or further exaggerated by parents, siblings, classmates with good or ill intentions. Parents are usually proud and will praise extensively the gifted child, on the other hand siblings, comrades and school bullies will generally become jealous of the intellectual ease of the gifted child and tease him or her about any minor imperfection in his work, strength, clothes, appearance, or behavior. Either approach—positive reinforcement from parents, or negative reactions from siblings and comrades for minor flaws—will push these kids into considering their worth to their peers as equal to their abilities and consider any imperfection as a serious defect in themselves. The unhealthy perfectionism can be further exaggerated when the child counter-attacks those who mocked him with their own weapons, i.e. their lower abilities, thus creating disdain in himself for low or even average performance.

There are many theories that try to explain the correlation between perfectionism and giftedness. Perfectionism becomes a problem as it frustrates and inhibits achievements.

D. E. Hamachek identified six specific, overlapping types of behavior associated with perfectionism. They include:


There is often a stark gap between the abilities of the gifted individual and his or her actual accomplishments. Many gifted students will perform extremely well on standardized or reasoning tests, only to fail a class exam. This disparity can result from various factors, such as loss of interest in classes that are too easy or negative social consequences of being perceived as smart.[49] Underachievement can also result from emotional or psychological factors, including depression, anxiety, perfectionism, or self-sabotage.[50]

An often overlooked contributor to underachievement is undiagnosed learning differences. A gifted individual is less likely to be diagnosed with a learning disorder than a non gifted classmate, as the gifted child can more readily compensate for his/her paucities. This masking effect is dealt with by understanding that a difference of one standard deviation between scores constitutes a learning disability even if all of the scores are above average.

In addition, many gifted students may underachieve because they have grown to believe that because of their intelligence, things should always come easily to them, and thus may lag behind their non-gifted peers in the work ethic required to learn things that don't come immediately to them.

Some gifted children may not be aware that they are gifted, and not just average. One apparently effective way to attempt to reverse underachievement in gifted children includes educating teachers to provide enrichment projects based on students’ strengths and interests without attracting negative attention from peers.


It has been thought in the past that there is a correlation between giftedness and depression or suicide. This is not an established research finding. As Reis and Renzulli mention,

With the exception of creatively gifted adolescents who are talented in writing or the visual arts, studies do not confirm that gifted individuals manifest significantly higher or lower rates or severity of depression than those for the general population...Gifted children's advanced cognitive abilities, social isolation, sensitivity, and uneven development may cause them to face some challenging social and emotional issues, but their problem-solving abilities, advanced social skills, moral reasoning, out-of-school interests, and satisfaction in achievement may help them to be more resilient.[49]

Also, no research points to suicide rates being higher in gifted adolescents than other adolescents.[51]

See also


  1. ^  
  2. ^ Urbina, Susana (2011). "Chapter 2: Tests of Intelligence". In  
  3. ^ Pintner, Rudolph (1923). Intelligence Testing: Methods and Results. New York: Henry Holt. p. 196. Retrieved 14 July 2013. We do not mean to leave the impression that before the general use of mental tests no attention had ever been paid to children of remarkable ability. We find many references in literature to especially bright children, and the biographies of many great men bear record of their superior performances in childhood. Nevertheless, such references are scattered and leave the impression of something peculiar and very uncommon. Superior intelligence has certainly not been recognized as a vital educational problem. It is becoming to be so regarded today, because of the scientific study of such children by means of intelligence tests. 
  4. ^ Davis, Gary A.; Rimm first2=Sylvia B.; Siegle, Del (April 2010). Education of the Gifted and Talented. Pearson Education, Limited. p. 56.  
  5. ^ Callahan, Carolyn M.; Hertberg-Davis, Holly L. (21 August 2012). "Chapter 32: Heterogeneity among the Gifted". In Callahan, Carolyn M.; Hertberg-Davis, Holly L. Fundamentals of Gifted Education: Considering Multiple Perspectives. Routledge. p. 330.  
  6. ^ McIntosh, David E.; Dixon, Felicia A.; Pierson, Eric E. (2012). "Chapter 25: Use of Intelligence Tests in the Identification of Giftedness". In Flanagan, Dawn P.; Harrison, Patti L. Contemporary Intellectual Assessment: Theories, tests, and issues (Third ed.). New York (NY):  
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