What Makes You Gifted?
They told me I was smart, and I cried. I wanted to be sexy, or
I go through life wanting to say to people, "What's the matter,
are you a turtle, can't you do that faster?"
I learned the whole job in six weeks, and now I'm bored. I
guess I'll have to go back to school.
I'll give anything a try!
Who are the gifted? There are millions of them, and they
look much like everyone else. Can one spot gifted people just by
Bernice is wearing a deep red knitted dress, and large, dramatic
jewelry; her pepper-and-salt hair is carefully styled. She stands with
an acquaintance in the lobby of a Philadelphia hotel. A group of
football-playing behemoths trundles by and she giggles delightedly,
"I can't wait to get home and tell my husband I saw the Eagles!"
Ian has long hair, a beard, and is wearing a paint-stained shirt, fatigues,
and work boots. Leaning back in his chair, he raises a bottle
of beer and begins a conversation.
Joel walks down the hall of his former high school. A skinny kid,
his loose-jointed, bent-kneed stride and his slightly drooping shoulders
don't indicate energy. His jaw is slack, lips slightly parted, eyes
Faith has natural flaxen hair, cut in the latest fashion. She's wearing
big dangling earrings, a gold choker, a plaid shirt, and jeans. She
leans over to the boy next to her and whispers in his ear. They giggle
for most of a class.
Jonathan has a beard and glasses; he's a little bit skinny. He has a
heavy-looking backpack as he rides his bike across a college campus
at 3 A.M. The computer center is less crowded in the middle of the
night, so that is when he works.
If you discount appearances and watch what they do, it is easier to
spot them. Bernice is in that hotel lobby because she is making a presentation
at a conference. She has a Ph.D., a husband and family, and
she heads a department in a major university. Ian begins that conversation
about ballet. He's dressed that way because he is the director
of construction projects. He likes his job because he can design the
work himself, and he needs new things to design all the time. Joel's
eyes look vacant because he hates his glasses and he doesn't have his
contacts in at the moment. His skinny body belies his wicked tennis
game. He thinks a lot, partly about his summer job representing his
father's company on the East Coast. At 19, he is a student at a major
university and is in that hallway because he has come back to visit
some former teachers. One of Faith's fascinations in life is clothes.
She designs outfits for herself each day and can create any style she
desires. She is an accomplished musician, an award-winning writer, a
merit scholar, and Harvard, Yale, Brown, Princeton, and Swarthmore
all wanted her wide blue-eyed smile to grace their campuses last year.
The kid she is giggling with is one of the top sixty young scientists
in a large eastern state. At least Jonathan looks the part; he is an honors
scholar at his university, and his appearance fits the stereotype.
He is expected to graduate in four years with both undergraduate
and graduate degrees.
What do all these people have in common? They have a large capability
for seeing patterns, a restless drive to enlarge their world and
to know, know, know. I met Bernice, Ian, Joel, Faith, and Jonathan in
the course of conducting my long-term study of the gifted. They are
helpful in understanding what happens to the "smart kids" in our society
when they grow up.
That segment of the population that can be classified as gifted constitutes
between 3% and 5% of the population, depending on who is
asked. Some would describe a person who has a finely tuned and biologically
advanced perception system and a mind that works considerably
faster than 95% of the population. Others would say that the
gifted are those whose IQ, if measured correctly, would be over 130.
One study, conducted over a fifty-year period, claimed that they are
healthier than the average person. That study concluded that, given
the proper environment in which to grow, they will be taller and
stronger, live longer, get divorced less, and have happier marriages
than most people. They are also supposed to be more community-minded,
more athletic, more notable, and richer than average.
The trouble with that fifty-year study, done by psychologist Lewis
Terman of Stanford University, is that it was based on a selection of
people who were already rather successful in the California schools
of the 1920s, so it naturally reflected some very accomplished individuals.
We will discuss Terman's work in more detail later. Other
researchers have reinforced his findings, but Terman was probably
the first to dispel, with hard facts, the notion that highly intelligent
people are weak, sickly misanthropes of doubtful mental stability.
Terman provided a valid explanation for the Hillary Clintons, the
Christa McAuliffes. His work makes sense, not only of their amazing
multiple accomplishments, but also of their joy in living life on a
seemingly different plane.
As Different as Snowflakes
In spite of the volumes of research that exist on characteristics of the
gifted, they do not appear in any kind of standard form, any more
than any other segment of the human race does. Truly, they are as
different as snowflakes. Based on my observations in the classroom
and the general population, I concluded some years ago that the
gifted can be grouped into three rough categories. It was a surprise
to come upon the same categories in a documented study by psychologist
Elizabeth Drews. I called them, informally, strivers, superstars,
and independents. Remembering these categories can help to explain
some of the confusion that surrounds impressions of the gifted. It
can also prevent some of the snap judgments that are made at the
mere mention of the word "gifted." From the previous section, we
might categorize Joel as a striver, Jonathan and Ian as independents;
Bernice and Faith are certainly superstars.
In the first category are what have been called the "high-testing
teacher-pleasers." When I was in college, they were known as
"grinds." They work tremendously hard at school or their job. At the
behest of corporate, parental, or academic authority, they will meet
almost superhuman requirements. Their peers in school or the workplace
do not have much influence on them. They have high test
scores most of the time; high grades, and high accomplishments.
They like structure and direction. One will rarely find creative contributions
to science and art here, but certainly the endless taking of
pains to do things right. They are often those adults who consider
their jobs as their lives.
At 35, Daphne is one of only a handful of female corporate general
counsels in the nation. She grew up in a quiet professional household
in an unspectacular Washington, D.C., neighborhood. She remembers
her then-traditional mother teaching her skills such as cooking,
while her brother learned what were considered "masculine" skills,
sharing gardening and repair chores with his father. "But the intellectual
was never neglected," she recalls. "My mother loved wordplay.
We are the only family I know of who kept a dictionary in the
A brilliant college and law school student, Daphne now works
long days, evenings, and weekends. I interviewed her on a Saturday
afternoon in a deserted conference room. It was midsummer. Her
high salary has purchased a beach house, which she has too little
time to enjoy. Marriage? Daphne smiles and says, "I'm told I terrify
men. But then I'm told I terrify everyone. It never occurs to me to
try to hide my intelligence." She is "married" to her job and seems
quite content to be so.
Another broad group encompasses what could be called superstars.
They are the one-third who make the rest of us look badpeople expect
all gifted people to be like this. They live up to the image created
by the famous Terman studies of people who are taller, healthier,
handsomer, wealthier, happier, and nicer than most peoplebecause
they are! They work hard, but play hard too. Concern for social relationships
makes them popular with classmates, coworkers, employees;
they often take their values from the concerns of the peer realm.
Their high marks and high accomplishments seem to meld into the
whole picture of their overall zest for life. They are often the scholar-athletes who
seem to have it all. Whatever field they enter, they can
be found in the same place: at or near the top.
In contrast to Daphne is Lauren. She too was a brilliant law student
and is now occupying a position with a prestigious Wall
Street law firm. She too is 35. She looks 25. "Both my parents were
Navy. My mother got her degree in music education on the G.I.
Bill. A great role model, she taught me that learning is fun. Even in
law school, I took random courses in things like languages and
I interviewed Lauren over drinks in a quiet bar. She seemed
equally interested in discussing her prospects for a partnership,
backpacking, shopping at Bloomingdale's, and how much she enjoys
the theater in New York. "Marriage? Oh, there are plenty of men to
marry, I'm just not interested in being tied down right now. I have a
lot of men friends, good buddies, and notwithstanding that I come
from Virginia, having a date is not the ultimatethere are other
So far, we have two groups of people who are a delight to those
around them, either because they are fun or because they always have
the work finished. What happened to the obnoxious, irritating,
know-everything types? They are next, but take a second look before
locking them into a negative stereotype. They are often the least understood
but the most accomplished.
This third category Elizabeth Drews calls the "creative intellectuals."
To coworkers, fellow students, parents, bosses, and teachersin
fact, to anyone who represents authoritythey are more likely to be
termed a pain in the neck. They work hard, often brilliantly, at what
interests them. They may ignore the rest, regardless of the consequences.
Their locus of control comes from deep in their inner value
system. They are seldom popular, or leaders, and usually they don't
want to be. In a classroom they often ask, as Drews says, "below the
surface, or, depending on how they feel about the teacher, below the
belt questions." They have a zany sense of humor.
They tend not to fit into the neat little slots of our corporate society;
consequently, their careers may have a very irregular development
indeed. But from their ranks come scientists rather than engineers,
inventors rather than manufacturers, artists rather than competent
performers. They may drive you absolutely crazy if you fail to understand
their way of relating to the world. Having one in the family, as
either child or spouse, will guarantee that no one will be bored!
Mark's well-built muscular body says "football," as does his athletic
walk. The clothes say "Jock" right down to the Docksiders. The
handsome face makes girls sigh, "He's so quiet." Mark uses his well-developed
arm muscles for tennis, golf, karate, bowling, sailing (none
of it on a school team) and lugging around thick physics books.
"Even when I was little, I knew I was hurting my parents, but I
could do my sister's third-grade math homework in my head. I simply
refused to do my first-grade homework for `those people' (teachers)
who couldn't understand that I already knew it. From kindergarten
on, my teachers couldn't stand me, and they let me know it. I must
have driven them crazy with questions! I just assumed that school
was supposed to be a miserable place.
"In eighth-grade math I'd daydream and really not know what was
going on, so I'd make up my own way to do a problem as I walked up
to the board. The teacher would announce sarcastically (because my
crazy methods sometimes worked), `Mark will now show us how to
do this problem.' That year I tested off the scale in math achievements.
I also failed math. If anybody bothered me, I hit them. I think
I expressed myself physically because no one would let me express
Mark did not go to a big-name school; his grades were barely passing
in some courses. The minor college that accepted him provided
no challenge. Yet, he could discuss Einstein, Mozart, and T. S. Eliot
with the aplomb of a college professor. (After a decade of struggle, he
is presently a Ph.D. candidate in astrophysics.)
Here we also find candidates for a fourth category, one we don't
like to think about. Those who drop out of organized society do so
in a variety of ways. There is the 155 IQ who is washing dishes and
going nowhere. And always, because this is the way it is with people
who have fast and feisty minds, there is the 155 IQ who is washing
dishes because it frees his mind to concentrate on becoming a professional
chess player. Some of those who drop out become stock clerks;
some become criminals; some commit suicide. In a later chapter, we
will discuss how one arrives at the ultimate waste of the best and the
Is it possible for an ordinary observer to come to a tentative conclusion
about gifted people? Yes. There are specific ways in which they
behave, both as adults and as children. The first people interviewed
for this book were selected by using a list of indicators that are very
useful for spotting gifted people almost anywhere. This list could be
compressed into traits like energy, curiosity, speed, concentration,
sensitivity, sophistication of thinking, persistence, humor, and something
about their eyes. Don't laugh. The last item showed up in interview
after interview in response to the question of how to spot
another gifted grownup. It was often prefaced by "I know this
sounds odd, but ."
Might you be one of them? Think back into your own childhood
as well as your present life for clues. If the following descriptions do
not fit you, perhaps there is a person in your life, either at home or at
work, who irritates, delights, puzzles, or otherwise intrigues you.
You may be looking at a gifted grownup. It could be your boss or the
lowest-ranking shipping clerk; a friend, an in-law, your spouse, or
your own child. If it turns out that you find these descriptions fitting
your child, look again at yourself. Those genes had to come
from somewhere! Is giftedness something you inherit? Partly, but
more about that later. Let us look more closely at how one can identify
the gifted by their behavior.
Curiosity and Energy
Linda P. Moore, in a wonderfully wise and funny book called Does
This Mean My Kid's a Genius?, asks if there is anyone around in your
life who is "more energetic, more inquisitive, quicker than most and a
bit of a mystery." For example, an ordinary child comes upon a colony
of ants. She may ask questions and will probably accept the answers of
an adult willing to give them, watch the ants with fascination for a
while, and go on to something else. The smart kid will probably
watch for a longer time; she will certainly ask more questions, especially
those beginning with "Why?" or "What if?" A 7-year-old may
ask questions that the adult can't answer. If the adult is wise, this will
lead to a trip to the library for a book on ants, because the questions
may go on for days! And don't look now, but there may be an ant farm
in the future.
Or look at the college student who cuts his finger, seriously, and
has never had a wound of any consequence before. The cut and the
stitches will be examined, speculated about, and checked daily with a
magnifying glass. It may be only a cut finger to anyone else, but to a
gifted person it's a whole new area to be curious and learn about.
Some people might regard finding a huge dead sea turtle on the
beach as horrible; this particular 50-year-old regarded it as interesting.
Careful visual observation was done, along with lots of speculation
as to why it was so far north. Did it come ashore to lay eggs or to
die, and do the barnacles on its body indicate age? She took pictures.
She got a book on sea turtles from the library and sent the author a
note and a picture because she thought it might interest him.
Discovering new philosophical concepts is always fun for an
active mind. A retired executive in her seventies encountered
Thoreau's Walden in a used book store. "How could I have missed
this wonderful man?" she demanded. Then she went about cleverly
integrating his ideas into all kinds of conversations and situations,
having a delightful time for days. Fortunately, she has an understanding
Besides energy and curiosity, it seems, about everything, many researchers
agree that gifted grownups seem to be able to retain large
amounts of information and to concentrate for long periods of time.
Trying to get the attention of a completely absorbed gifted person
can be a challenge. Whether it's a 10-year-old studying the stats on
her favorite team or a 40-year-old lost in a laboratory experiment,
they can be very good at actually shutting out the world around them.
Margo reports, "When my mathematician husband is bored at
parties, he sits quietly in a corner and does equations in his head.
Only I know that he is no longer in the room. I can tell by his eyes
and the contented look on his face."
Seeing relationships and patterns, putting very complex ideas together,
and doing it faster than others are special talents of the
gifted. I remember a 6-year-old who would sit, feet swinging,
putting together the pieces of an adult-level jigsaw puzzle almost as
fast as her little fingers could pick them up, all the while singing
"The Kookaburra Song" over and over.
In work situations, it is easy to spot the gifted adult when a new
project or a new piece of equipment is introduced or a new problem
arises. It may be regarded by fellow workers as marvelous or maddening,
but the gifted person is the one who grasps the idea immediately
or can already operate the equipment while everyone else is still
stumbling aroundlike the secretary who comments "They sent me
to school for three days to learn how to use the word processor. I understood
it all on the first day. On the third day, I found a flaw in the
program. I wrote the software company a letter; I thought they'd
want to know."
Dorothy Sisk of the University of South Florida points out some
additional elements of the behavior of gifted grownups. They have a
strong tendency to be nonconformist and to think independently.
They may have a reputation among peers for having wild and silly
ideas or ideas that are off the beaten track. However, a prominent
trait is a considerable sensitivity to both emotions and problems.
Researchers have consistently reported that highly intelligent people
exhibit unusually high ideals and values. Gifted people often report
being criticized for overreacting to beauty in nature or art, to frightening
or horrifying news events, or to moral wrongs in society.
Very young smart kids often worry about evil or world peace before
they actually have enough vocabulary to discuss it. One woman
who works with underachievers of all ages describes the long series of
talks that can be necessary to find out what is troubling such a child.
In these long talks, she feeds them, little by little, the vocabulary
they need to tell her what is bothering them.
Sometimes, a gifted person finds that the demands of a moral imperative
outweigh all practical considerations. A high school student is
offended by the principle behind a classroom regulation and, in spite
of any efforts by the teacher or other authority figures, chooses to be
punished rather than conform. Later on, this sensitivity to moral considerations
can lead to dramatic changes in lifestyle or dramatic resignations
In the past, this heightened sensitivity was associated with menial
illness. We carry the image of the mad genius in our minds as well as
in our late-night movies, despite the fact that research has shown the
rate of psychopathology to be about the same for the eminent as it is
for the general population.
A different and more helpful explanation for the supersensitivity
observed in many highly intelligent people was developed by the
late Polish psychiatrist and psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski,
whose brilliant work is slowly becoming known in America. His
work has shown that they have, in fact, more highly developed perception
systems in all areas. For this phenomenon, Dabrowski
coined the term "overexcitability" (OE), and divided these OE's
into five areas of functioning:
1. Psychomotor OEincludes physical movement and the seemingly
endless energy that characterizes many of the gifted.
2. Sensual OEincludes an extra measure of delight in the use of all
the senses and greater sensitivity to touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight.
3. Intellectual OEthe quality most noticed, and a good example of
confusing the part with the whole. Most people associate high intelligence
with the probing questions, the insatiable curiosity, the
endless learning seen in gifted people of all ages.
4. Imaginational OEcan be seen in the free play of imagination, in
daydreaming, and in the important skill of visualizing.
5. Emotional OEcan manifest itself in anxieties or joys, with extreme
highs and extreme lows, both characteristic of those of
American psychologist Michael Peichowski declares that the
heightened development of these perception channels can cause conflict
and tension in gifted persons, but that it also intensifies, even
enriches, that person's mental and emotional development. Thus,
this heightened sensitivity and the problems it sometimes engenders
are not to be considered neuroses to be cured, but rather stages
through which the gifted person must be helped to pass as he or she
realizes increasing potential as a human being.
Heightened sensitivity sometimes manifests itself in what appears
to be very insensitive behavior. As the reader will observe in subsequent
chapters, life as a gifted person can teach you, very forcefully,
to protect yourself at all times. Consider how the overexcitability described
in the previous paragraphs might be received by classmates,
teachers, fellow workers, bosses, or even in-laws, and the need for
protection becomes understandable.
Sophistication and Humor
Joseph Renzulli and T. Hartman are two educators who have developed
a scale for rating students' behavior to spot gifted children in
schools. Again, selected items may call up an image of someone you
know or remind you of how it is in your own life. They look for kids
who "see more" in a story or film, ones who "read a lot" and are "easily
bored with routine tasks."
People who perceive humor in situations that do not appear humorous
to others may be more attuned to the incongruities in life.
Many of the gifted I interviewed use this perception to find or create
humor. Even young gifted children can be found indulging in
the making of sophisticated puns; by high school age, they are often
adept at triple puns. Some studies report that humor seemed to be
the chief element setting creative gifted people apart from others. I
once watched two highly gifted teenagers exchange jokes at the
beach by writing equations in the sand. One interviewee defined
gifted as "people who laugh at the same things I do."
With all these advantages, how could gifted people have any
problems? How could they possibly expect any special treatment?
How could they dare request any special understanding of or compassion
for their unique needs? And, really, shouldn't they expect to
Human nature being what it is, being different can cause some type
of problems. Being healthy is no crime, but being taller and stronger
than your age-mates in elementary school does not always make you
popular; sometimes, it just makes you a good target or an irresistible
challenge. The interviews confirmed that gifted people work faster,
question more persistently, make more connections, think more
deeply, annoy more people, and have greater highs and lows than the
average person. The interviews also revealed that they carry around
a great deal of hidden anger about the way they are treated. Their
happier marriages may be the result of a long and painful struggle to
find someone compatible enough to be able to marry. Being rich or
notable is often the result of an energy level that drives the individual,
whether he or she likes it or not. There is no single gifted type,
and the misunderstanding of that fact is one of the biggest burdens a
gifted adult has to carry.
A New and Expanding Definition
At this point, the reader may feel that we have not definitively answered
the question of who the gifted are and how we can distinguish
them from the general population. Do we really know? Paul Torrance
of the University of Georgia explains that we are dealing with
an expanded definition and developing the research to justify it. For
instance, we now know that whatever else it may be, IQ is not the full
measure of giftedness.
The IQ test and the concept of identifying as gifted anyone whose
IQ is above a certain numbereven the concept of intelligence itselfhave
undergone many changes in the twentieth century. Few of
those changes have reached the general public. Many educators continue
to view intelligence in a very narrow way. Yet, reducing the
whole spectrum of what is now known about human intelligence to a
single round number has great potential for damaging lives.
At the end of a pleasant interview, Nina, a frustrated high school
senior, says, "It was so refreshing not to be asked about numbers! I
liked being able to talk about other things. I could tell you my IQ,
but I am not my numbersmy SATs and all that stuff. There is more
to me than that!" The IQ, in spite of almost a century of research, is
often the sole criterion used to designate gifted children in our
Many children and adults reject, even fear, being labeled gifted.
Psychologist Mary Racamora says that the emphasis on IQ (fearing
that you are your numbers?) may be part of the cause. Once it is explained
that giftedness involves a broad personality profile, she
says, many of her clients lose their resistance and are willing to accept
If you have been a victim of the tyranny of the IQ, these pages are
for you. If up to now you have sincerely believed that people are their
numbers, perhaps we can change your mind about those you interact
with, perhaps even about yourself. It is true that the differences between
gifted persons and the rest of the population can be, to some
degree, measured by certain kinds of tests of certain kinds of performance.
The excessive use of qualifiers in the previous statement is
deliberate. We now proceed to open the Pandora's box of tests and
measurements, chief among them the IQ test.
The Origins of Testing
"Intelligence is a concept created by Western culture that stresses
its important values," according to Joseph Khatena in Readings in
Gifted and Talented Education. He explains that, in our culture, we
test intelligence by evaluating how quickly people can solve relatively
unimportant problems without making errors. In another
culture, according to Khatena, intelligence might be measured by
seeing how well people can solve important problems, allowing for
errors, and with no time limit. When an IQ test is administered,
whether to an individual or a group, what is being tested? The debate
over what is being measured continues to the present, with one
additional concept gaining wider acceptance: Intelligence, whatever
it is, is not the whole scope of giftedness.
One of the earliest ideas about intelligenceand, unfortunately,
one of the hardest to discredithas been the concept of fixed intelligence:
You are born with it. Either you have it or you don't. It never
changes. You can never lose it. Thus the educational cliché, "Gifted
kids can take care of themselves." With this concept still firmly entrenched
in the public mind, it is easy to see how many of the resentments
experienced by gifted people arise. If each of us is born with a
certain unalterable capacity, then it follows logically that (a) people
might resent those who did well in the genetic lottery; (b) parents of
highly intelligent children could smugly assume future success for
their offspring; (c) intelligence would manifest itself, by itself, no
matter what the schools did or did not do; and (d) taxpayers would
resent paying for programs to help people who are automatically assured
of the best of life's goodies anyway. That is not the way the reality
Although the actual term "intelligence quotient" was coined in 1912
by William Stern (who later decried the pernicious influence of his
invention), the story begins with French psychologist Alfred Binet.
Around the turn of the century, Binet was asked by the French government
to develop a test that would sort out the slower children as
they entered school so that they could be helped. What Binet actually
did was develop a series of real-world tasks involving verbal
analogies, abstractions, problem solving, and causal relationships at
the levels on which children of various ages were known to be able to
operate. Based on the task a particular child could do, he or she was
assigned a "mental age."
The intelligence quotient (IQ) expresses the relationship between
mental age and chronological age. If your IQ is 100, it means that
your mental age and your chronological age are just about the same.
"Normal" range is usually conceived to be 1 standard deviation (15
points) on either side of the central figure. From these two points,
"average" intelligence begins to shade into above average and below
average. At about 130, so the wisdom goes, one begins to enter the
category of what is currently called gifted. Shading downward toward
70, mental retardation appears. Roughly, that is the concept underlying
the IQ test.
Binet's test gave us the first straightforward method for identifying
those with high ability in certain areas. It is worth noting that
Binet himself did not put much faith in the tests, because they were
subject to error, and he himself did not believe in the concept of fixed
intelligence. How ironic that, based on the test that bears his name,
so many others have continued to do so!
Terman and the Termites
In 1916, Binet's tests were revised by Lewis Terman, working at
Stanford University, for use with American children. Thus, they
came to be known as the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale, and the
testing industry was born!
Terman wanted to study gifted children. He didn't believe in the
stereotype of the skinny, sickly, semi-crazy prodigy or the then conventional
wisdom of "early ripe, early rot." He designed one of the
most ambitious longitudinal studies ever done; it is still being completed.
Starting in 1921, when Terman received a large grant from
the Commonwealth Fund of New York City, a team of researchers
fanned out over California to find suitable subjects. They chose
1,528 subjects, based on the new Stanford-Binet test. Terman and his
associates measured every conceivable facet of their lives, from the
size of their heads to the number of books in their homes. They collected
extensive anecdotal records on each subject from parents and
In discussing his subjects, whom he called "high-testing children,"
Terman noted that he found them to be "appreciably superior in
physique, health, social adjustment; markedly superior in moral attitudes .
vastly superior in school subjects . 2 grades, sometimes 3
or 4 [above average]." As the "Termites" moved through various
stages of life, new studies were done. Ninety-eight percent of Terman's
"geniuses" have continued to cooperate with the study. The result
is a mountain of data, only now being completely assessed via
computerization, and five volumes, Genetic Studies of Genius, which
are considered classics in psychological research.
Although their names have never been revealed, they are an impressive
group of people. They have published numerous books and
articles, including fiction and nonfiction. They hold 150 patents.
Seventy-eight are Ph.D.s; 48 are physicians; 85 are lawyers; 74 are involved
in university teaching; 47 are listed in American Men of Science.
However, though 150 are engineers doing applied research,
only 51 have done basic research. The study has not produced any
Nobel Prize winners, no major poets, artists, or musicians. In spite of
many criticisms which have been leveled at both Terman's professional
behavior and his work in recent years, Terman dispelled forever
the myth of the freaky genius and showed us that the "Terman
gifted" were healthier, stronger, handsomer, smarter, more educated,
more civic-minded, more physically active in later years, more happily
marriedjust about more everything! Terman's subjects seem
to fit the category of superstars, described earlier.
The Age of Tests
By the 1930s and '40s, we believed we could measure almost anything.
The masses of men who had to be processed through the
Armed Forces in World War II provided a testing ground for a wide
variety of human traits. During those decades, the idea of the Terman
gifted held sway among most educators, and a whole series of erroneous
concepts became firmly entrenched in the public mind.
Some of them are still there.
IQ tests were good predictors of school achievement. They gave a
nice, definite number with which to work; even if there were doubts
about the accuracy of the score, a second test could always be given.
Notice, though, that the continued success of this idea depends on
the two concepts mentioned earlier: that IQ never changes and that
an IQ test really measures giftedness in all its aspects. As researchers
worked within these assumptions, they began to find evidence that
neither concept was necessarily true. Initially, the data that piled up
were either denigrated or ignored. Then work by major researchers
began to change the way intelligence was viewed.
The 1950s and Beyond
Piaget, a Swiss psychologist who initially gathered data by watching
his own children, viewed intelligence as the ability to make adaptive
and integrative choices. As the growing child's world is enlarged, he
interacts with and comes to understand ever more sophisticated data
and makes choices about responses. Although this growth is continuous,
it takes place in recognizable stages. According to Piaget, a child's
mental activity is dominated first by overt actions (0-2 years), then
perceptions (2-7), then intellectual operations (7-11), and finally by
theoretical or abstract thinking (11-15). Thus, "development" became
a legitimate word to use in connection with intelligence.
Later, in the United States, J. P. Guilford's study of the nature of
intelligence produced the Structure of Intellect concept (SOI),
which postulates a series of intelligences. He defines intelligence as
"a collection of abilities for processing information of different kinds
in various ways." He was able to show that there are cognitive
processes that conventional tests did not measure, such as problem
solving and divergent thinking.
Educators Jacob Getzels and Philip Jackson studied 500 adolescents
and discovered that those designated creative and those designated
high-IQ had the same academic achievementeven though
they tested as much as 23 points apart on an IQ test. They concluded
that a single number was too restrictive, that it could blind us to
other forms of excellence, especially creativity.
Paul Torrance, author of Education and Creativity, has moved this
idea forward with his work in developing methods of assessing creativity.
He agrees that if we establish a single measure of giftedness,
we will eliminate many extremely gifted individuals who have different
areas of ability.
Educator Benjamin Bloom contributed a taxonomy of levels of the
thinking process which is widely used in the development of curriculum
today. His studies revealed that only 80% of the IQ is developed
by age 6, doing further damage to the idea of a fixed and unchanging
IQ. Other research documented the growth in IQ as lifelong, as long
as proper stimulation takes place.
Perhaps the most exhaustive work in widening our concept of intelligence
has been done by Harvard's Howard Gardner, who has postulated
a series of seven "intelligences." Spatial intelligence involves
the ability to operate upon what we perceive in the visual world, and
is seen in artists, sculptors, and architects, for example. In actors,
dancers, and athletes, we see the flowering of bodily-kinesthetic intelligence,
which is the ability to use one's body in skilled ways both for
goal-directed and expressive purposes. Grouped with these two as
object-related, we find logical-mathematical intelligence, which is
first shown in the forming of relationships among objects and develops
into the forming of abstract relations among patterns of actions.
Gardner groups linguistic and musical intelligences in a category
called object-free. Linguistic intelligence involves the ability to both
make and experience language, as exemplified in poets. Musical intelligence
involves sensitivity to musical tones and phrases as well as the
ability to know how these fit together in patterns and forms, as seen in
composers and performers. Finally, Gardner presents two personal intelligences,
internal and external. The former involves the ability to
access one's own inner feeling life. We see this in the wise elder who
can use this inner knowledge to help the community. Political and religious
leaders manifest the external intelligence which allows them to
deal skillfully with others by sensing their needs and desires. It is obvious
that these abilities could not be assessed by a simple IQ test.
So we can see that, in contrast to the original idea of equating
high IQ with giftedness, contemporary psychologists and educators
are saying what sensitive parents and teachers have always known.
Barbara Clark of the University of California calls reliance on the IQ
as a sole criterion for giftedness "unnecessarily damaging." She adds,
"unfortunately many people, including too many educators, believe
that the IQ score gives an accurate representation of a person's capacity.
It does not."
As new concepts of intelligence develop, the challenge to measure
them increases. In comparison to the task of measuring a quality as
elusive as creativity, the IQ test seems a relatively simple instrument.
Educator Paul Torrance concludes, "We do not know the end of the
complexity of the human mind and personality . it is high time we
began developing the strategies, methods and materials that have
built into them an acceptance of this complexity." Nina was right:
You are not your numbers.
Signs of Giftedness
Since the whole point of this book is to encourage greater recognition
of the gifted grownups among us, how might you go about trying
to spot the gifted adults in your world? Try the following
You might be looking at a gifted adult if you encounter a person
* Does things faster than anyone else. "I saw the whole concept in
ten minutesit took the company president two weeks!"
* Has more energy. "I hit the floor running every morningit
drives my husband crazy!"
* Has an endless curiosity for new things. "My husband bought me a
telescope for my birthday. Now I have a whole new field to explore!"
* Uses up jobs. "I learned the whole job in six weeks and now I'm
bored. I guess I'll have to go back to school; I need more training
before they will allow me to do the interesting things."
* Is sensitive both to beauty and to pain. "I can't watch the news; the pain is too much for me."
* Has genuine empathy and sensitive perception. "People seem to
know that I am a good person to talk to, even when they first meet
me; I should have been a psychiatrist."
* Is not afraid to be regarded as an oddball or a weird person. "Existence
is filled with opportunities . departing from tradition may
invite stress but [I am] willing to accept a certain amount of stress
in the belief that a new order will be created."
* Is playful. "You are led through your lifetime by the inner learning
creature, the playful spiritual being who is your real self."
(One suspects that Jonathan Livingston Seagull, as well as
Richard Bach, is a gifted being.)
* Has a very highly developed moral sense. "When I believe that
something is wrong, I must oppose it, no matter what."
* Has more insight and intuition than others. "Some people might
want to call it psychic. To me, it's just what I do, and it is perfectly
* Expresses a feeling of being out of sync with the rest of the world.
"Sometimes I think I must have come from another planet!"
* Sees patterns and analogies and can do abstract
* May not have scored above 130 on an IQ test. May have scored
above 130 on an IQ test.
* Just seems more complicated than other people. This complex
human being may be at once "more naive and more knowledgeable, being at home equally to primitive symbolism and rigorous logic.
He or she is both more primitive and more cultured, more destructive
and more constructive, occasionally crazier, and yet
adamantly saner than the average person."
That was a rather elaborate portrait. Did you recognize anyone? Perhaps
In this chapter, we have shown how to identify gifted grownups by
observing the differences in their behavior. We have also considered
the origins of some of the long-held beliefs that have limited our perceptions
of gifted people. Now that there is some general agreement
among psychologists and educators about the ways gifted persons are
different from the general population, it is disheartening to discover
so much lack of understanding in the general public, and in gifted
people themselves. I often hear people say, "I know someone who acts
that way, but she isn't gifted." Look again. If the person consistently
exhibits gifted behavior, no matter how unlikely it may seem, give serious
consideration to revising your estimate of that person's capability
(especially if you are looking in the mirror). If that person is your
student, your employee, or your child, look many times. You may be
very surprised at what begins to dawn on you.
One more important concept should be noted. It is essential to remember
that gifted persons are found at all levels of society. It is
true that larger concentrations of gifted persons can be found where
income is above average, but that is mostly because that is where
giftedness has had the best chance to be recognized and to flourish.
In different geographic areas, in a wide variety of occupations, at all
ages and economic levels, I discovered gifted people. In the inner
cities, in small towns, on isolated farms, in Native American and
other culturally diverse communities, among our newest immigrants,
among our disabled adultsthe drive, the speed, the sophistication,
the sensitivity can be found by anyone who knows how to
look. Once we are armed with knowledge about the characteristics
of gifted people, it would seem to be a simple task to recognize them,
deal with their needs, and allow their gifts to enrich their lives and
ours. We will spend the remainder of this book demonstrating that
it is not simple at all.