Finding the Next Einstein

Why smart is relative

The Benefits Of Being Gifted

Is being gifted really a curse?

Lisa Simpson Gifted Child
Psychology Today recently had a major topic titled The Curse of Being Gifted?  Certainly every part of the population, including the gifted population, has its share of issues or problems.  After all, intellectually talented or gifted students show great variation on traits that are not based on the one they are selected for: intelligence.  For example, this means that some gifted kids are socially awkward, whereas others are socially skilled, with most somewhere in between.

I do not doubt that for many gifted students, along with their intellectual ability come issues such as not being able to fit in with the crowd.  By definition, it makes sense that fitting in with everyone else is much easier if you are normal on a variety of traits including intelligence and social skill.  So life is not necessarily easy for students who are by definition not the average or norm when it comes to intellectual ability.

See All Stories In

Gifted Kids

The power and perils of being born smart.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

As Leta Hollingworth points out in the classic text The Gifted Child, the "problems of the gifted pertain chiefly to the period before twelve years of age, for the problems of the gifted person tend to be less numerous as he grows older and can use his intelligence independently in gaining control of his own life."  This of course pertains to females just as much as males.

While acknowledging that the gifted face unique challenges, I think that what are often not discussed are the incredible benefits of being smart, if not necessarily early in life, then across the lifespan. (For an exception and some fun anecdotes from gifted kids, see Tamara Fisher's article on the up side of being gifted over at her blog on Education Week: Unwrapping The Gifted).

For example, here are a list of traits that are positively associated with being smart, meaning smarter people, on average, tend to be higher on these variables (taken from The g Factor by Arthur R. Jensen):

Achievement motivation
Altruism
Analytic style
Aptitudes, cognitive abilities, 'abstractness of' integrative complexity
Artistic preferences and abilities
Craftwork
Creativity; fluency
Dietary preferences (low sugar, low fat)
Educational attainment
Eminence, genius
Emotional sensitivity
Extra-curricular attainments
Field-independence
Height
Health, fitness, longevity
Humor, sense of
Income
Interests, depth and breadth of
Involvement in school activities
Leadership
Linguistic abilities (including spelling)
Logical abilities
Marital partner, choice of
Media preferences
Memory
Migration (voluntary)
Military rank
Moral reasoning and development
Musical preferences and abilities
Myopia
Occupational Status
Occupational success
Perceptual abilities
Piaget-type abilities
Practical knowledge
Psychotherapy, response to
Reading ability
Regional differences
Social skills
Socioeconomic status of origin
Sports participation at university
Supermarket shopping ability
Talking speed
Values and attainments

And here are a list of traits that are negatively associated with being smart, meaning smarter people, on average, tend to be lower on these variables (also taken from The g Factor):

Accident proneness
Acquiescence
Aging
Alcoholism
Authoritarianism
Conservatism (of social views)
Crime
Delinquency
Dogmatism
Falsification ("Lie" scores)
Hysteria (versus other neuroses)
Impulsivity
Infant mortality
Psychoticism
Racial prejudice
Reaction times
Smoking
Truancy
Weight/height ratio

I won't comment on specific outcomes, but I think the general pattern of findings shows that overall being gifted or smarter is probably more of a blessing than a curse.

In some of my research with my colleagues Gregory Park, David Lubinski, and Camilla Benbow, we have also shown that gifted students (or the smart fraction) tend to go on to achieve very highly, on average, later in life.  See a journal article on this here and an earlier article of mine on this here.

Lisa Simpson Gifted Child Crosswords
Does this mean that being gifted is great in every respect?  Certainly not.  As Sidney Moon, a distinguished professor at Purdue University has aptly pointed out, one myth about gifted students is that they don't face problems or challenges.  Many of them do, just like every other student, and we need to remember this.

However, nobody can pick their parents or the homes that they grow up in.  And as we all know, many gifted kids are able to perform mental feats that simply cannot be entirely due to their environments.  Life is not fair and we have to live with the hand that we are dealt.  Being gifted means you've likely been dealt a very good hand.

But as I've mentioned in my article Sorry, Talented: Striving Matters, regardless of the cards you now hold in your hand, whether or not you will achieve highly in any area depends to a great deal on how hard you are willing to work.  And as Roy Baumeister and John Tierney have put it in their recent bestseller, your Willpower can make a critical difference.  These are things we all have control over.

© 2011 by Jonathan Wai

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or G+. For more of Finding the Next Einstein: Why Smart is Relative go here.

Jonathan Wai, Ph.D., is a psychologist, writer, and research scientist at Duke University.

 
more...

Subscribe to Finding the Next Einstein

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?