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Giftedness

Above-average intellectual or creative ability, or talent in a particular area, such as music, art, or athletics.

Intellectual giftedness is generally indicated by an IQ of least 125 or 130. People who are extremely creative are also considered gifted, although their giftedness can be hard to identify by academic performance or standardized tests. Giftedness has been defined not only in terms of specific talents and academic abilities, but also by general intellectual characteristics (including curiosity, motivation, ability to see relationships, and long attention span) and personality traits such as leadership ability, independence, and intuitiveness. In general, gifted people are creative, innovative thinkers who are able to envision multiple approaches to a problem and devise innovative and unusual solutions to it.

In the early days of intelligence testing it was widely thought that a person's mental abilities were genetically determined and varied little throughout the life span, but it is now believed that nurture plays a significant role in giftedness. Researchers comparing the behavior of parents of gifted and average children have found significant differences in childrearing practices. The parents of gifted children spend more time reading to them and encouraging creative types of play and are more involved with their schooling. They are also more likely to actively encourage language development and expose their children to cultural resources outside the home, including those not restricted specifically to children, such as art and natural history museums. The involvement of fathers in a child's academic progress has been found to have a positive effect on both boys and girls in elementary school in terms of both grades and achievement test scores. Within the family, grandparents can also play a positive role as mentors, listeners, and role models. A disproportionately large percentage of high-achieving women have reported that at least one grandparent played a significant role in their lives during childhood. (The anthropologist Margaret Mead named her paternal grandmother as the person with the single greatest influence on her life.) Even within a single family, giftedness can be influenced by such environmental factors as birth order, gender, differences in treatment by parents, and other unique aspects of a particular child's experiences.

Standardized intelligence tests—most often the Stanford-Binet or Wechsler tests—almost always play a role in assessing giftedness, even though such tests have been criticized on a variety of grounds, including an overly narrow definition of intelligence, possible racial and cultural bias, and the risk of unreliability due to variations in testing conditions. Critics have questioned the correlation of IQ scores with achievement later in life, pointing out that standardized tests don't measure many of the personal qualities that contribute to professional success, such as independence, motivation, persistence, and interpersonal skills. In addition, the creativity and intuition that are hallmarks of giftedness may actually lower a person's scores on tests that ask for a single solution to a problem rather than rewarding the ability to envision multiple solutions, a trait—called divergent thinking by psychologists and educators—that often characterizes giftedness.

Further Reading

Sternberg, Robert J. and Janet E. Davidson, eds. Conceptions of Giftedness. London: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Kenneth John William Craik Biography to Jami (Mulla Nuruddin ʼAbdurrahman ibn-Ahmad Biography