Psychology Of Giftedness Research Paper

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1. Historical Perspectives

The history of giftedness is over 3000 years old. Interest in giftedness is evident in several cultures, with examples to be found in ancient Greek (Athenian) and Judeo-Christian traditions as well as in the Chinese Ming Dynasty. In the twentieth century there were fluctuations in public as well as scientific interest in this theme (for greater detail see Tannenbaum 2000).

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Although the German personality psychologist William Stern promoted the research and diagnosis (identification) of giftedness in a 1916 publication and the American intelligence researcher Lewis M. Terman started the most comprehensive to date (‘Genetic Studies of Giftedness’ in California in 1922–1923, for which the most recent follow-up research report was presented in 1995), intensified psychological interest in giftedness only gathered true momentum in the last 30 years of the twentieth century. This was prompted, above all, by two events and their consequences: the Threat of Sputnik in the USA and the Cultural Revolution on the mainland of China. The influential conflict of the 1960s between egalitarianism (or ‘democracy’) and excellence was, in the 1970s and 1980s, increasingly overshadowed by the economic demand for the activation of human resources through gifted education. Under these conditions, the number of gifted programs grew globally in the last decades of the twentieth century. Accordingly, research questions at the beginning of the twenty-first century are dominated by applied research rather than the acquisition of knowledge in the sense of basic research. Even so, experimental and field studies in the paradigms of cognitive theory, lifespan, social psychology, learning, and instructional psychology have, in recent years, won growing significance (Sternberg and Davidson 1986, Colangelo and Davis 1997, Heller et al. 1993, 2000).

2. Definition Problems And Newer Conceptions Of Giftedness

The terms giftedness and talent are used synonymously in everyday language and the scientific literature (Heller et al. 1993, 2000, Colangelo and Davis 1997). Because gifted or talented individuals are a very heterogeneous set of persons, a comprehensive theory is hardly possible. Furthermore, Ziegler and Heller (2000) identify a series of empirical, ontological, and meta-theoretical difficulties with conceptions of giftedness and talent.

‘For example, several conceptions of giftedness incorporate genetic influences as a significant component of the basic meaning of talent. In fact, there is a large body of research that proves that genetic influences account for some interindividual differences. Wagner (1999) indicates … that these genetic influences have only been proven by untrained persons.’ Ericsson drew the plausible conclusion that ‘the estimated performance barriers seen as genetically fixed upper boundaries can be overcome through suitable learning processes’ (Ziegler and Heller 2000, p. 3).

Eysenck and Barrett (1993) view giftedness as a ‘fuzzy concept’ that can be defined as synonymous with general intelligence, creativity, and special (e.g., artistic or scientific) ability. Gallagher and Courtwright (1986) point out two distinct meanings based on the psychological context (with a focus on individual differences) and educational practice (with a focus on individual needs and special educational programs). Sternberg and Davidson (1986) analyzed no less than 17 different conceptions, which they divided into explicit and implicit terms. An example of an implicit conception was delivered by Tannenbaum who viewed the interaction of five factors— general ability, special ability, nonintellective (motivational, etc.), environmental, and chance factors—as resulting in gifted talented performance. Also Renzulli’s giftedness model is counted by Sternberg and Davidson among the implicit theories, while Gagne’s or the Munich psychometric model as well as Sternberg’s cognitively-based triarchic model of intellectual giftedness are examples of explicit (empirical, experimentally confirmable) theories. A common basis shared by these newer conceptions is that giftedness is conceptualized as a differential construct. For greater detail see Ziegler and Heller (2000).

Contrary to the older IQ-based definitions (e.g., Terman defined giftedness by IQ-scores of 135 and higher), models of giftedness developed in the 1980s and 1990s represent multidimensional or typological conceptions. The following is a list of examples:

(a) The Three Ring Model by Renzulli (1986). According to this model, giftedness is a result of above average intelligence, creativity, and task commitment. This was expanded by Monks to include family, school, and peer group, making a dynamic Six Factor Model; see Renzulli (1986), Monks and Mason (2000).

(b) Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Originally Gardner (1983), Gardner postulated seven distinct human intelligences: linguistic, logical– mathematical, spatial, bodily–kinesthetic, musical, intrapersonal, and interpersonal. Recently he has added ‘naturalistic’ (the ability to discern patterns in the living world) as an eighth intelligence and two further candidates (8 1 2): ‘existential’ and ‘spiritual’ intelligences, which have not yet been confirmed empirically (Ramos-Ford and Gardner 1997). This typological model synthesizes psychometric, cognitive psychological, and neuropsychological approaches to conceptualize giftedness (a more accurate label than ‘intelligence’).

(c) Gagne’s Differentiated Model of Giftedness and Talent, the newest version of which was presented by the author (2000). Gagne differentiates between three concepts: genetically determined gifts (aptitude domains), talents (fields of exceptional performance), and catalysts (personality vs. environmental supportive factors). The gifts—intellectual, creative, socioaffective, sensorimotor, and other factors—are transformed, with the assistance of catalysts as well as learning and training processes, into domain-specific talents, e.g., in arts, sports, science, and technology.

(d) The Munich Typological Model of Giftedness by Heller et al. (see Heller and Feldhusen 1986, Heller 1992 2001). This multidimensional giftedness model consists of seven relatively independent ability factor groups ( predictors), various performance domains (criterion variables), as well as personality (motivational, etc.) and social environmental factors which serve as moderators for the transition of individual potentials into excellent performances in various domains. High ability or giftedness is defined as an individual (intellectual, creative, etc.) potential for outstanding achievements in one—not too narrowly defined—domain (one-sided talent) or two—seldom more—domains (multi-talent). Hence giftedness is conceptualized as a multifactorized ability construct within a network of noncognitive (motivational) and social moderators as well as performance-related variables. For diagnostic purposes (identification), the differentiation between predictor, criterion, and moderator variables (in Gagne’s model, so-called ‘catalysts’) is of particular interest (see Fig. 1). The validity of this model of giftedness has been confirmed in several enlarged studies both in Germany and in international settings (cf. Heller 1992 2001, Perleth and Heller 1994, pp. 77–114). The Munchner Hochbegabungs-Testbatterie (MHBT) [Munich High Abilities Test] by Heller and Perleth (eds.) which measures the various model variables ( predictors, moderators) has recently been published.

Psychology Of Giftedness Research Paper

(e) The Triarchic Theory of Intellectual Giftedness developed by Sternberg in 1985 (see Sternberg 1986, 1997) represents a process-oriented conception. In cognitive psychological research paradigms, thinking and problem-solving processes stand in the limelight. The triarchic theory consists of three subtheories: a) the componential-subtheory, whereby metacognitive competencies regarding the planning, monitoring, and control of actions, performance components in the sense of encoding and the solution of problems, and knowledge-acquisition components are of major significance; b) the experiential or two-facet-subtheory with the aspects of automatization or subroutine vs. insight or creative thinking in the solution of (new kinds of ) problems; and c) the contextual subtheory, which refers to sociocultural dependence of talent definitions.

Further process-oriented conceptions of giftedness are discussed by Siegler and Kotowsky in their literature survey (1986). Their two levels of giftedness correspond to those delineated by Renzulli through his division into ‘schoolhouse giftedness’ (intelligence) and ‘creative–productive giftedness’ (creativity). The diagnostic implications of these have often been confirmed, in that (multifactorial) intelligence tests can predict scholastic success, although they cannot be (exclusively) used to predict academic or career success. On the other hand, creativity tests have proved to be unreliable predictors of scholastic success, although they can often explain significantly larger portions of the variance in career success than intelligence tests. This brings us to our next question regarding the advantages and disadvantages of various research approaches.

3. Research Paradigms In The Field Of Giftedness

The field of giftedness research differentiates among several types of paradigms, whereby synthetic approaches have recently been accorded a large amount of attention. The psychometric paradigm is based on the trait and factor approach (e.g., Terman, Gagne, Gardner, Heller) already proven in the field of psychology. It focuses on the description of the phenomenology and structure of giftedness and talent (nomothetic function) and is indispensable for identification (diagnosis) of giftedness. Investigations based on the cognitive theory paradigm focus on the explanation of differences in the learning and thinking processes of highly gifted versus less gifted individuals (idiographic function). Such information about the mechanisms of cognitive processes and their individual causes provides not only new theoretical recognition but also useful contributions to the practice of gifted education and counseling. Hence both paradigms are needed, and they should be viewed in terms of how they complement one another. Furthermore, the expert– novice paradigm enriches cognitive theory in terms of the motivational effort variable ‘deliberate practice’ (cf. Ericsson 1996). While cognitive and metacognitive components are the focal point of cognitive componential approaches, in the expert–novice paradigm these are neglected in favor of the quantity and quality of learning and training processes. This approach has particularly proven its worth in the explanation of expertise in the domains of chess, physics, music, and athletics, but the extent to which this approach can be useful for explaining expertise in other domains must still be empirically confirmed. Even more interesting are recent attempts to combine prospective (psychometric) and retrospective (process-oriented) approaches in the form of the expert–novice paradigm. The intention here is to avoid the weaknesses inherent in the trait-oriented psychometric approach (underestimation of the influences of long-term deliberate practice) in so-called ‘testing the limits’ conditions (see Howe et al. 1998) and of the incremental (implicit) ability theory (according to Dweck) as well as those of the experience-oriented approach in the expert–novice paradigm (underestimation of innate talents in favor of learning processes); for recent contributions to the genetic influence vs. environmentalism controversy see Howe et al. (1998) including the 30 open peer commentaries. In the genetic and brain researchrelated approach the focus is on a biological explanation of giftedness and talent (cf. Thompson and Plomin, Eysenck and Barrett 2000).

Although the research paradigms sketched out here conceptualize giftedness more or less as individual resources, the following approaches concentrate on social and learning environment-related conditions. The interactionist theories try to balance the position between innate capacities and socialization influences with respect to the development of giftedness and excellence in various performance domains. Here lifespan developmental psychology is interested in the description and explanation of the individual’s change of behavior throughout the life course (cf. Monks and Mason 2000). Psychosocial and cross-cultural approaches primarily analyze the external context conditions of the development of giftedness and outstanding achievements (cf. Tannenbaum 1983). From cross-national, cross-cultural, and cross-societal research approaches one can expect not only information about various social-cultural influences on the individual developmental and gifted education processes within specific social settings (-etic approach), but also explanations regarding the universality of gifted behavior characteristics (universalism hypothesis in the -emic approach). The latter function is, above all, indispensable for examining universality assumptions of many theories—here, in the field of giftedness.

4. Identifying And Programming (Gifted Education And Counseling)

Perspectives related to the application of results of research in giftedness include the identification of the gifted and the nurturing and counseling of gifts or talents. Both aim to optimize the development of personality in individual and social developmental conditions. To this end, diagnostic information is necessary, i.e., about characteristics of the individuals and their learning environments. Provided that one can conceptualize the development of giftedness as an interactive product between internal (cognitive and motivational) factors and external socialization conditions, multidimensional tests for the identification of the gifted are necessary. Correspondingly, a comprehensive diagnosis of giftedness cannot be defined by one type (for example within the framework of talent searches for specific promotional courses, scholastic programs, contests, etc.), but rather have to keep individual differences in moderation styles in mind (cf. Fig. 1). It is these moderating variables which frequently offer opportunities to provide effective counseling or intervention, for example underachievers or other at-risk groups. Here, ‘at-risk groups’ refer to highly gifted and talented girls, gifted handicapped, gifted underachievers, or disadvantaged and culturally different talented, because for these groups a higher risk not to be identified as gifted exists (cf. Yewchuk and Lupart 2000). In order to expand on status diagnostic methods, approaches involving dynamic assessment (cf. Kanevsky 2000) are available to assist in the identification of gifted underachievers. Since most norm-oriented ability or intelligence tests, including creativity tests, have proven to suffer from ceiling effects in application, they are inadequate for identification, particularly on the basis of IQ-scores. More suitable are multidimensional cognitive abilities tests, such as the Munich High Abilities Test (MHBT) by Heller and Perleth (cf. Heller 1992 2001), developed along the lines of the Munich Giftedness Model (Fig. 1). Here, differential talent predictors with respect to various aspects of intelligence, creativity, musicality, psychomotorics, social and practical intelligence as well as relevant noncognitive (motivational) and social moderators are measured in order to determine outstanding performance (criterion) in various domains.

In order to reduce the bandwidth fidelity dilemma, or so-called alpha and beta errors as defined by Cronbach and Gleser, a sequential decision strategy can be used. Initially a screening (e.g., with teachers’ checklists) comes up with a rough estimation for the reduction of the beta error (‘oversights’ of gifts and talents), after which in the second and possibly third steps, domain-specific (multidimensional) abilities tests etc. are probed in order to reduce the alpha error (in order to avoid false identifications). For more detailed explanations see Heller and Feldhusen (1986), Monks and Heller (1994), Colangelo and Davis (1997, pt. II) or Heller et al. (1993, 2000, pt. III).

Gifted education strives for both the promotion of effective, creative learning environments versus a fit between stimulating family and scholastic settings and the individual needs for learning, e.g., striving for knowledge, exploratory urges, challenges in the sense of testing one’s limits, etc. The Aptitude Treatment Interaction (ATI) Model provides the theoretical basis for these constructs. Quick information processing and accelerated cognitive and metacognitive competencies afford these children and adolescents effective self-regulated, discovery learning without a high risk probability for the acquisition of misconcepts (as among low gifted). In order to avoid understimulation and boredom among highly gifted and talented students, multifaceted scholastic differentiation measures are necessary, whereby two prototypes can be delineated: enrichment and acceleration, which can also be effectively combined. For more information regarding various instructional models and programs of nurturing the gifted and talented see Colangelo and Davis (1997, pts. III and IV), Heller et al. (1993, 2000, pts. IV and VI).

Finally, gifted counseling is often needed for enhancing the socialization processes in gifted education, especially with respect of the at-risk groups mentioned above. Opportunities for counseling regarding themes relevant to the highly talented differ with respect to quality and quantity, particularly with respect to gender and age of the clientele, but also regarding family and scholastic socialization as well as regional counseling offerings. Furthermore, relationships to socioeconomic family status have been confirmed. For more detailed information see Colangelo and Davis (1997, pt. V), Heller et al. (1993, 2000, pt. V) or Heller and Feldhusen (1986, Chaps. XI and XII). Counseling the gifted and talented should be an integral part of gifted education.


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