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Extremes of Intelligence: Mental Retardation and Giftedness (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Gifted and Talented Children

Gifted (or talented) children show achievement that is well above average in one or more areas—usually in language, math, music, art, or athletics. Some children are globally gifted: They show exceptional talent in all areas. Other children are unevenly gifted: They are exceptional in one or two areas but are at (or below) average levels in others. While a high IQ score may be one indicator of giftedness, it is not the only one; some talent areas are not included on intelligence tests, and such tests do not consider a child's cultural context when used as indicators of talent (Sternberg, 2007). Winner (1996) describes three characteristics that are typical of gifted (or talented) children:

  • Gifted children are precocious. They begin learning early and progress faster than others.
  • Gifted children march to their own drummer. They don't need much assistance to master information in their favorite subjects. They often teach themselves, have their own ways of learning, organizing, and sorting information; and they don't always conform to the conventional learning methods of schools.
  • Gifted children have a rage to master—an intense craving for information and an obsessive need to make sense out of their favorite topics. They devour information, spend endless hours on their chosen subjects, and rarely engage in any other pursuits. Parents don't push them to achieve; instead, gifted children push their parents for more materials and stimulation.

One of the most ambitious longitudinal studies in history was begun by Lewis Terman in 1921 to study the development of highly gifted individuals. Contrary to common stereotypes, Terman found that gifted and talented individuals were not neurotic, frail, eccentric, or emotionally sensitive individuals. Instead, they were larger, healthier, and generally more well-adjusted than most other children. Overall, they tended to live longer, enjoy better health, have a lower divorce rate, and be happier than most people (Shurkin, 1992; Terman, 1925). More recent research has found that gifted and talented adolescents are more focused in school, spend much of their free time working in their talent areas, and spend more time alone than their "average" peers. Their parents tend to have more education, and their families have higher incomes, as well as more supportive and positive family environments. For example, most talented teenagers rate their family interactions as more affectionate, cohesive, flexible, and happy than other students (Csikszentmihalyi, Rathunde, & Whalen, 1997; Shurkin, 1992; Terman, 1925). If others had these benefits, how many more would show exceptional talent?

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