Should any useful conceptualization of ‘gifted adults’ include high intelligence?

Intelligence is an important component. However, IQ tests are not the only way to quantify HIQ. For example, the potential of twice exceptional individuals is not always reflected in IQ scores. Solely using IQ=130+ discriminates too many individuals for it to be acceptable as a definition. Talk to people, assess them dynamically.

Are gifted adults best understood using a developmental framework that includes childhood and adolescence?

This is a good way forward in research on gifted adults. For example, childhood trauma may affect later work life and relations. This context is useful for identifying comorbidities that may affect the main questions in specific research projects. Failing to identify any such context at all will likely misrepresent possible causes of gifted adult “problems”.

Is agreeing on a definition of gifted adults an immediate priority?

Research on gifted adults should be purposeful and help understand real-world issues. Getting stuck in conceptions already facilitates endless quarrels in the field of giftedness research and I think resources should be used more wisely, with actual gifted adults in mind. Although I understand why conceptions are there – to serve as hypotheses and frameworks for research questions – I think that different conceptions do not disturb the bigger picture that arises from the total body of giftedness research. We should also be cautious as to not overgeneralize the gifted adult population as a possible consequence of focusing on definitions above actual research questions.

Are mental health issues experienced by gifted adults best understood as directly related to trauma or other situational factors rather than ‘being gifted’?

I am convinced that gifted people deal with trauma differently than non-gifted individuals, so there must be an interplay rather than one or the other. I am somewhere in the middle on this one – pathologizing means strengthening the ‘mad genius’ hypothesis, but trauma should by no means be disregarded. Trauma is something different from what is considered true ‘madness’ – sociopathy and fellow human disregard.

Is the word ‘gifted’ problematic for research and practice with adults?

Use the word, because it makes the larger body of research recognizable. Name some alternatives within any particular research project, then continue using ‘gifted’ as you by then have explained. A threat caused by prevention of the word is self-denial and giving in to societal taboos on being gifted. Call it like it is, the phenomenon has a name. It will be confusing to use different descriptions of the same phenomenon – that would be a pain-omenon. Then we would again get lost in conceptions.

How can more opportunities to collaborate and share knowledge with others be created regarding giftedness research?

Make sure you really do represent a plethora of researchers at symposia and conferences, considering gifted diversity. Else, everybody may sound quite similar and you get an echo chamber that may threaten progress in understanding true gifted diversity.

Blind spot: exceptionally and profoundly gifted adults are not often included in “coming together” in The Netherlands. Of course, understandably, moderately gifted individuals are a majority in numbers and there is not much in place yet for the exceptionally gifted.

Special academic journal issues are interesting, but they are often rather inaccessible to a wider audience of non-research professionals such as educators and lobbyists. Most giftedness research is not yet published using open access publication models. Moreover, many giftedness professionals in The Netherlands do not have the academic background to write scientific papers that would be accepted into journals and would need considerable help in academic English writing (as is offered by Edit & Evolve).

Do we need to agree to disagree on how gifted adults are identified and selected due to important practical reasons making it difficult to agree on operational definitions?

Keep in mind the overall value of the growing body of giftedness research, rather than reaching an ultimate consensus – any truth has many nuances and brings forth new hypotheses. There are unknowns – opportunities for new hypotheses to be tested. We need to think in opportunities. Different methods, be it self-reporting or otherwise, should rather be seen as complementary. This is largely a social science, not mathematics.

What to do about the historic tension between understanding giftedness as achievement, a potential for achievement or as unrelated to achievement?

The post-Terman group is focused on achievement, the post-Hollingworth group on a more existential way of being. I have a tendency towards Hollingworth. Focus on achievement is a typical Anglo-American way of going forward. I know that there have been studies of some African concepts of giftedness. These are disregarded if one is to just focus on western “ideals” of high achievement.

This does not imply that research on high achievement should be stopped right in its tracks. I am sure it provides insights in certain aspects of talent development. Tensions don’t have to be there: if everything proceeds, progress is made in our overall understanding of giftedness, including within the context of potential achievement. I do urge achievement researchers to place their specific research into a wider context that also includes statements on “being” gifted, to better explain why they wish to focus on achievement regarding specific research questions, and to not just blindly go forward using achievement hypotheses simply because they always have.

Is ‘giftedness’ as a concept not relevant to adults, because it is a social construct developed in gifted education?

Name ‘giftedness’ at least for practical/operational reasons and then put it in the context of your research questions. What other phenomenon are you studying, then, if ‘giftedness’ is not named? Different extents and varieties of “He Who Is Not Named”?

Is quantitative research on gifted adults possible when there is no agreement on population parameters, and therefore representative sampling and control groups?

Yes, this is possible and prevents population bias across the total body of research on gifted adults. Otherwise you assign traits to the gifted population without considering if these traits are unique to gifted individuals. But considering any given research question, this may or may not be highly relevant. This context should always be taken into account in making reasonable choices regarding sampling and control groups.

Should the study of gifted adults inform the study of gifted children and education, considering funding and collaborations?

I think the two potentially inform and strengthen each other. This is no one-way street. The gifted adult once was a gifted child. The gifted child will be a gifted adult.

Is a diversity of viewpoints and conceptions of giftedness problematic?

I am not too worried about the diversity of viewpoints and conceptions, which is understandable considering the highly varied backgrounds of experts and researchers themselves, but I hope the overall picture will be inclusive towards the true diversity within the gifted population.

How should research on gifted adults move forward when considering these different perspectives?

Pick and combine. Do actual research and build an overall picture that moves beyond conceptions of Individual Differences, Ecology and Practice combined. Cross-pollinate.

There are some big ans worrisome red flags: the persistence pseudoscientific, pedagogical neuromyths such as left- and right-braininess, the focus on executive functioning with a disregard for deeper, underlying cognitive functions, and worst of all, executive functioning placed in the context of the highly dubious and pseudoscientific spiral dynamics management theory. I am wary of this. It does not belong in scientific research, nor within pedagogy.

Dr. Alice K. Burridge