Gifted People and their Problems
Francis Heylighen, PhD [page
gifted people have a number of personality traits that set
them apart, and that are not obviously connected to the traits
of intelligence, IQ, or creativity that are most often used
to define the category.
these traits have to do with their particularly intense
feelings and emotions, others with their sometimes awkward
These traits make that these people are typically
misunderstood and underestimated by peers, by society, and
usually even by themselves. As such, most of their gifts are
actually underutilized, and they rarely fulfill their full
This is particularly true for gifted women, as they don’t fit
the stereotypes that society has either of women or of gifted
people (typically seen as men).
present document is a quick attempt at sketching the overall
picture, summarizing the essential characteristics and the
kind of problems they tend to give rise to.
While this is mostly a collection of existing material, I
intend to prepare a paper offering a novel interpretation of
these data on the basis of a cybernetic/cognitive/evolutionary
Summary of traits
following is a digest of the traits that are most often listed
as characterizing “gifted” or “creative” individuals.
number of “*” signs indicates how often this trait (or a very
similar one) appeared in one of the lists that I found on the
I have ordered the traits in different categories, in order to
emphasize that these traits extend much further than just
intelligence and knowledge (cognition).
comparison, I have also included the traits (indicated by a
“•”) from Maslow’s description of what he calls the
There is obviously a strong overlap in both lists, although
Maslow seems to virtually ignore the cognitive traits, while
emphasizing the motivational and emotional ones, in accord
with his motivation-based theory.
fact that in spite of this very different basis to establish
two personality types, the overlap is so obvious, confirms my
own reinterpretation of Maslow’s theory in which I argue that
self-actualization requires not only need satisfaction, but
cognitive competence, i.e. knowledge and intelligence.
(1992): "A Cognitive-Systemic Reconstruction of Maslow's
Theory of Self- Actualization", Behavioral Science 37, p.
**********• original, unusual ideas, creativity,
connects seemingly unrelated ideas
******* superior abilities to reason, generalize or problem
solve, high intelligence
****** vivid and rich imagination
****** extensive vocabulary, verbal ability, fascinated by
***** learns new things rapidly
***** excellent long term memory
**** grasps mathematical/scientific concepts readily, advanced
**** avid reader.
*** complex and deep thoughts, abstract thinker
** runs mind on multiple tracks at the same time, fast thinker
*******• excellent/unusual sense of humour
******• very perceptive, good sense of observation
*****• passionate, intense feelings
***• sensitive to small changes in environment
**• aware of things that others are not, perceive world
**• tolerance for ambiguity & complexity
** can see many sides, considers problems from a number of
*• childlike sense of wonder
• openness to experience
• emotional stability, serenity
sets high standards for self and others
*********• very curious, desire to know
********• very independent, autonomous, less motivated by
rewards and praise
*******• seeker of ultimate truths, looks for patterns,
meaning in life ******* enjoys challenge, penchant for
******• outrage at injustice or moral breaches, good sense of
****• wide range of interests, overwhelmed by many interests
****• strong moral convictions, integrity, honesty
****• high drive
**• visionary, realizes visions, sense of destiny or mission
** loves ideas and ardent discussion
• acceptance of self and others
great deal of energy
******• long attention span, sustains concentration on topics
of interest, persistent
**** cannot stop thinking, work myself to exhaustion
***• needs periods of contemplation, solitude
rules or authority, asks embarrassing questions,
*******• feels different, out of step with others, sense of
alienation and loneliness
*****• very compassionate
****• empathy: feels along with others, helps them understand
Quotes from other sources
This is a collection of bits and snippets that I collected
from the Web. Emphasis in the longer quotes is mine. Search
quote in Google to find its source.
Characteristics of Creative
I have always had an insatiable curiosity.
I am able to run my mind on multiple tracks at the same time.
I learn rapidly and retain / apply what I learn.
I tend to be very independent.
I tend to be less motivated than others are by rewards,
bonuses, and praise.
times I have asked embarrassing questions or rudely pointed
out truths at the wrong time.
preference for the complex can fool me into underestimating
the simple answer.
to refine and improve others' innovations.
I feel comfortable with a wide range of emotions.
see many sides to nearly any issue.
Honesty, integrity, and ethics are important to me.
I can help others understand themselves better.
I am a seeker and champion of ultimate truths.
nervous system is easily aroused, and I am able to discern the
slightest changes in my environment (aromas, shifts in light,
etc.) or detect irritants (e.g. scratchy sweater label).
feel along with and for others.
high standards for myself and for others and am my own worst
to look for consistency and security in systems, rules, and
often considered a "driven" person. I have maintained my
childlike sense of wonder.
intent on searching out universal truths.
deeply disturbed by inequity, exploitation, corruption, and
needless human suffering.
and do work myself to exhaustion.
Some people think I'm too serious.
I have always been interested in social reform.
I value and will defend diversity.
a strong need to "make a difference."
I have a penchant for risk-taking.
I can and do ignore my own needs for the sake of others.
© LIBERATING EVERYDAY GENIUS TM by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen,
Psy.D. - retitled The
Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating
Characteristics of Gifted
Perfectionistic and sets high standards for self and others.
Has strong moral convictions.
Is highly sensitive, perceptive or insightful. Fascinated by
words or an avid reader.
Feels out-of-sync with others.
Is very curious.
Has an unusual sense of humour.
A good problem solver.
Has a vivid and rich imagination.
Questions rules or authority.
Has unusual ideas or connects seemingly unrelated ideas.
Thrives on challenge.
Learns new things rapidly.
Has a good long-term memory.
Feels overwhelmed by many interests and abilities.
Is very compassionate.
Feels outrage at moral breaches that the rest of the world
seems to take for granted.
Has passionate, intense feelings.
Has a great deal of energy.
Can't switch off thinking.
Feels driven by creativity.
Loves ideas and ardent discussion. Needs periods of
Searches for ???? in their life.
Feels a sense of alienation and loneliness.
Is very perceptive.
Feels out of step with others.
Gifted Resource Center and Lesley Sword, Ph.D.
titles by Lesley Sword on Articles:
Normal Behavior for Gifted
It is NORMAL for Gifted People to:
complex and deep thoughts. Feel intense emotions.
Ask lots of questions. Be highly sensitive.
Set high standards for themselves. Have strong moral
Feel different & out-of-sync. Be curious. Have a
vivid imagination. Question rules or authority. Thrive on
Feel passion and compassion. Have a great deal of energy.
Have an unusual sense of humour. Feel outrage at injustice.
Look for meaning in life. Feel sad about the state of the
Feel a spiritual connection to life.
Gifted Resource Center and Lesley Sword, Ph.D
Characteristics of Giftedness
99.4% learn rapidly
99.4% have extensive vocabulary
99.3% have excellent memory
99.3% reason well
97.9% are curious
96.1% are mature for their age at times
95.9% have an excellent sense of humor
93.8% have a keen sense of observation
93.5% have compassion for others
93.4% have a vivid imagination
93.4% have a long attention span
92.9% have ability with numbers
90.3% are concerned with justice and fairness
89.4% have facility with puzzles and legos
88.4% have a high energy level
88.3% are perfectionistic
85.9% are perseverant in their areas of interest
84.1% question authority
80.3% are avid readers Descriptions
90% were described by their parents as "sensitive."
83% like to concentrate on one activity at a time.
79% report high energy or activity levels.
44% are sensitive to clothing tags and other tactile
A Glossary of Gifted
Giftedness and education from the perspective of sociologic
social psychology by Steven M. Nordby © 1997-2002
Levels of giftedness According to IQ measurements, the
following labels are generally accepted:
Bright - 115 and above
* Gifted - 130 and above
* Highly gifted - 145 and above
* Exceptionally gifted -160 and above
* Profoundly gifted - 175 and above
Because of measurement error and ceiling effect, the
exceptionally and profoundly gifted labels are often used
Characteristics of the gifted
following characteristics are common but not universal:
* Shows superior abilities to reason, generalize or problem
* Shows persistent intellectual curiosity.
* Has a wide range of interests; develops one or more
interests to considerable depth.
Produces superior written work or has a large vocabulary.
* Reads avidly.
* Learns quickly and retains what is learned.
mathematical or scientific concepts readily.
* Shows creative ability or imaginative expression in the
* Sustains concentration for lengthy periods on topics or
activities of interest.
high standards for self.
* Shows initiative, originality, or flexibility in thinking;
considers problems from a number of viewpoints.
* Observes keenly and is responsive to new ideas.
social poise or an ability to communicate with adults in a
* Enjoys intellectual challenge; shows an alert and subtle
sense of humor.
These characteristics can
lead to conflicts in the regular classroom, as the
gifted child may:
* Get bored with routine tasks.
* Resist changing away from interesting topics or activities.
* Be overly critical of self and others, impatient with
Disagree vocally with others, argue with teachers.
* Make jokes or puns at times adults consider inappropriate.
* Be so emotionally sensitive and empathetic that adults
consider it over-reaction, may get angry, or cry when things
go wrong or seem unfair.
Ignore details, turn in messy work.
* Reject authority, be non-conforming, stubborn.
* Dominate or withdraw in cooperative learning situations.
* Be highly sensitive to environmental stimuli such as lights
These reactions of gifted students to the regular education
environment are normal only within the context of an
understanding of the gifted. Without that understanding, they
may be used to label the student as ADD/ADHD or SED. See
A term originated by Kazimierz Dabrowski to describe excessive
response to stimuli in five psychic domains (psychomotor,
sensual, intellectual, imaginational, and emotional) which may
occur singly or in combination.
Overexcitabilities are often used to describe certain
characteristics of the gifted. “It is often recognized that
gifted and talented people are energetic, enthusiastic,
intensely absorbed in their pursuits, endowed with vivid
imagination, sensuality, moral sensitivity and emotional
vulnerability. . . . [They are] experiencing in a higher key.”
- Michael Piechowski.
overexcitabilities or a strong imbalance between them may
reduce the individual's ability to function in society.
/ advanced development]
Intellectual and Psychosocial Nature of Extreme Giftedness
Philip M. Powell & Tony Haden Roeper Review , Vol. 6 No.
3, p. 131-133, February 1984.
The highly gifted are rare in the population. Using IQ scores
as a gross index to assess this rarity, those with IQ's of 150
and above occur about 5-7 times out of 10,000 persons.
The literature about them is also rare. Nevertheless, the
attempt to understand the highly gifted is valuable because it
can help us to help them achieve their potential.
It has been reported that the higher the level of giftedness,
the greater the chance of psychological and social adjustment
and Oden, (1959) found that the four traits which
distinguished the gifted from the control group of normal or
average children most clearly were:
* General intelligence * Desire to know
* Originality * Common sense
has argued that the gifted are independent thinkers. Dunn and
Price (1980) provided evidence to show that those of average
ability have a greater need for external structure than the
important difference, then, between average persons and their
gifted counterparts is in the need of externally imposed
Gifted persons are more likely to make sense out of their
intellectual experiences than the average person. Another
important difference is in the desire to know complex ideas.
Average persons have less desire to know ideas for their own
They substitute participation in social affairs for idea
dominance or the preference for thinking and generating ideas
argued as characteristic of the mentally gifted (Powell,
possession of the desire to know means that gifted individuals
have a need to search for
the inherent pattern, logic or meaning in a set of
data information, while average people prefer to have the
pattern, logic, or meaning already generated and explained.
The highly gifted, on the other hand, have the greatest
capacity to create structure and organize data and the
greatest need to know.
extreme, such people can
create whole disciplines (De Candolle) and/or frameworks for
comprehending the universe (Newton and Einstein).
Another problem for the highly gifted is they grow up with and
are often socialized by significant others who do not
understand them well enough to guide their ideas and actions
with valid feedback.
This was true of Leopold and Loeb, who were given free rein to
go and do as they pleased at an early age. Parents
also vacillate between being proud of and being scared of
the achievements of the highly gifted child.
in achievement can quickly turn to a fear of social stigma
which can cause parents to give their gifted child
inconsistent feedback. Hence, highly gifted children are never
quite sure if it is good or bad to be very bright.
Thus, their concept of the value of being very gifted develops
slowly and ambivalently. Peers,
especially children, are
often confused by the highly gifted person because it
is difficult to identify with their superior cognitive
They may downplay the degree of superiority of the highly
gifted by invalidating feedback. If this feedback is
internalized, a self-conception may be constructed based on
underrating the self.
(1979) reported on a young female student who had spent 18
years believing she was not intelligent because she asked more
questions than the others in class.
Later, in Clark's university class, when the characteristics
of the gifted were discussed, the woman was so moved that she
decided to say that she identified with the gifted even though
she knew she was not gifted.
She was so stirred by the class that later that evening she
called her parents. During a conversation with them, the woman
student found out that she has a measured IQ of 165. School
personnel had advised her parents not to discuss her
extraordinary IQ with her.
This resulted in a low level of academic seIf-esteem and the
ridiculous self-conception of being stupid! [...]
As a highly gifted 12 year old described it: “A
real friend is a place you go when you need to take off the
masks. You can say what you want to your friend
because you know that your friend will really listen and even
if he doesn’t like what you say, he will still like you. You
can take off your camouflage with a real friend and still feel
~ ~ ~
Heylighen, PhD is a research professor at the Free University
of Brussels (VUB), and director of the transdisciplinary
research group on "Evolution, Complexity and Cognition".
Personal site: http://pespmc1.vub.ac.be/HEYL.html
Article published here with kind
permission of the author.
pages / sites :
sensitivity resources : articles
/ high ability