AskDefine | Define giftedness

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  1. The property of being gifted.

Extensive Definition

Intellectual giftedness is an intellectual ability significantly higher than average.
Gifted children often 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 two, but whose later fluency and accomplishments belied this initial delay. In regards to this fact, psychologist 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.

Developmental theory

It has been said that gifted children may advance more quickly through stages established by post-Freudian developmentalists such as Jean Piaget. Gifted individuals also experience the world differently, resulting in certain social and emotional issues. The work of Kazimierz Dabrowski suggests that gifted children have greater psychomotor, sensual, imaginative, intellectual, and emotional "overexcitabilities".

Identifying giftedness


The formal identification of giftedness first emerged as an important issue for schools, as the instruction of gifted students often presents special challenges. During the 20th century, gifted children were often classified via IQ tests, however, recent developments in theories of intelligence have raised serious questions regarding the appropriate uses and limits of such testing. Many schools in North America and Europe have attempted to identify students who are not challenged by standard school curricula and offer additional or specialized education for them in the hope of nurturing their talents.
Because of the key role that gifted education plays in the identification of gifted people (children or adults), it is worthwhile to examine how that discipline uses the term "gifted".

Definitions of giftedness

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., Cattell, Guilford, and 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 edited 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. 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 well-researched 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. 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:
This definition has been adopted partially or completely by the majority of the states in the United States. The majority of them have some definition similar to that used in the State of Texas, whose definition states
The major characteristics of these definitions are (a) the diversity of areas in which performance may be exhibited (e.g., intellectual, creativity, artistical, 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

Many schools use a variety of measures of students' capability and potential when identifying gifted children.


Savants are people that perform exceptionally in one field of learning. Autistic savantism refers to the exceptional abilities exhibited by people with autism or other developmental disorders. The term was introduced in a 1978 article in Psychology Today that described this condition.

Characteristics of giftedness

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 often can master concepts with few repetitions. They may also be physically and emotionally sensitive, 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.
Giftedness is frequently not evenly distributed throughout all intellectual spheres: an individual may excel in solving logic problems and yet be a poor speller; another gifted individual may be able to read and write at a far above average level and 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. The preschool years are when most gifted children begin to show the distinctive characteristics mentioned above. As the child becomes older, too-easy classes and emotional issues may slow or obstruct the rate of intellectual development.
Some gifted individuals experience heightened sensory awareness and may seem overly sensitive to sight, sound, smell and touch. For example, they may be extremely uncomfortable when they have a wrinkle in their sock, or unable to concentrate because of the sound of a clock ticking on the other side of the room. Hypersensitivity to external stimuli can be said to resemble a proneness to "sensory overload", which can cause persons to avoid chaotic and crowded environments. Others, however, are able to tune out any unwanted distractions as they focus on a task or on their own thoughts, and seem to seek and thrive on being in the midst of lots of activity and stimulation. In many cases, awareness may fluctuate between conditions of hyperstimulation and of withdrawal. These conditions may appear to be similar to symptoms of hyperactivity, bipolar disorder, autism-spectrum conditions, and other psychological disorders, but are often explained by gifted education professionals by reference to Kazimierz Dabrowski's theory of Positive Disintegration.

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.
The isolation experienced by gifted individuals may not be caused by giftedness itself, but by society's response to giftedness. "In this culture, there appears to be a great pressure for people to be 'normal' with a considerable stigma associated with giftedness or talent." 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.


Perfectionism is another common emotional issue for gifted individuals. D. E. Hamachek identified six specific, overlapping behaviors associated with perfectionism. They include:
"When 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. Perfectionism becomes a problem as it frustrates and inhibits achievements. Perfectionism becomes desirable when it stimulates the healthy pursuit of excellence."
There are many theories that try to explain the correlation between perfectionism and giftedness. Gifted children may have difficulty with perfectionism because they set standards that would be appropriate to their mental age (the level at which they think), but then can't meet them because they are trapped in a younger body. Perfectionism is also encouraged by the fact that gifted individuals tend to be successful in much or all of what they do because their abilities have not been challenged, and consequently try to avoid failure.


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 too-easy classes or negative social consequences of being perceived as smart. Underachievement can also result from emotional or psychological factors, including depression, anxiety, perfectionism, or self-sabotage. An oft 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 1σ between scores constitutes a learning disability even if all of the scores are above 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 has not been proven. 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." However, a number of people have noted a higher incidence of existential depression, which is depression due to highly abstract concerns such as the finality of death, the ultimate unimportance of individual people, and the meaning (or lack thereof) of life. Gifted individuals are also more likely to feel existential anxiety.
However, numerous studies have shown that depression impairs intelligence because it leads to less neurogenesis in the hippocampus.

Professional attitudes towards giftedness

Grobman discusses how some exceptionally and profoundly gifted individuals may unconsciously create deficits as a way of closing the asynchrony gap. Some theorists in child development, including Linda Kreger Silverman and Dr. Fernette Eide, have estimated that between 20-40% of gifted individuals have a learning disability, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or some other neurological disorder. Still other researchers, such as Stephanie Tolan, postulate that the attribution of controversial disorders such as "ADHD" - which other authors have argued has not been proven to exist by any means other than subjective behavioral analysis - to gifted individuals arises from a misguided tendency to pathologize that which we don't understand. Tolan also discusses that identifying as attention deficient has become fashionable in young adults. It is generally agreed that giftedness may have a genetic component; research has shown that first-degree relatives of the intellectually gifted will often have IQs measuring within 10–15 points of each other.


External links

giftedness in Arabic: موهبة
giftedness in German: Hochbegabung
giftedness in Spanish: Superdotado
giftedness in Esperanto: Alta intelekto
giftedness in Persian: نخبه
giftedness in French: Surdoué
giftedness in Lithuanian: Gabumai
giftedness in Dutch: Hoogbegaafdheid
giftedness in Japanese: ギフテッド
giftedness in Portuguese: Superdotado
giftedness in Russian: Одарённые дети
giftedness in Finnish: Lahjakkuus
giftedness in Ukrainian: Обдарованість
giftedness in Yiddish: טאלאנט
giftedness in Chinese: 資優
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