Talent

Modern studies of giftedness have their origin in the work of Lewis Terman at Stanford University, who in the 1920's used intelligence test scores to identify intellectually gifted children. His minimal standard for giftedness was an intelligence quotient (IQ) of 140 on the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Test, a number at or above which only 1 percent of children are expected to score. (The average IQ score is 100.) Terman and his associates identified more than fifteen hundred children in California as gifted, and follow-up studies on "the Terman gifted group" were conducted throughout these children's later lives. Although individuals in the gifted group tended to achieve highly in school and in their careers, they were not greatly different from average scorers in other ways. Terman's research dispelled the myths that high scorers on IQ tests were, as a group, socially maladjusted or "burned out" in adulthood. They were high achievers and yet normal in the sense that their social relationships were similar to those of the general population.

By the time the Terman gifted group reached retirement age, it was clear that the study had not realized the hope of identifying eminence. None of the children selected had, as adults, won a Nobel Prize, although two children who were rejected for the study later did so (physicist Luis Alvarez and engineer William Shockley). High IQ scores did not seem to be characteristic of artistic ability. Apparently, an IQ score of 140 or above as a criterion for giftedness in children was not able to predict creative accomplishments in later life.

Studies conducted in the 1950's under the direction of Donald MacKinnon at the University of California at Berkeley tended to confirm this conclusion. Panels of experts submitted the names of whomever they believed to be the most creative architects, mathematicians, and research scientists in the United States. Then these individuals were invited to take part in assessments, including measurement of their intelligence through the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. The IQ scores of these highly creative individuals ranged from 114 to 145, averaging around 130, significantly below Terman's criterion for giftedness. No one knows how these adults would have scored on the Stanford-Binet test as children, or how creative adults in other domains would have scored, but the results confirmed that a score of 140 on an intelligence test is not a prerequisite for outstanding creative accomplishment.

More recent studies have cast light on the importance of nurture in the development of a broader range of talent. A team of researchers at the University of Chicago headed by Benjamin Bloom investigated the lives of 120 talented adults in six fields: piano, sculpture, swimming, tennis, mathematics, and research neurology. They found that in most cases, accomplishments on a national or international level by the time an individual has reached the age of forty had their origin not in a prodigious gift but in child-centered homes. The child's early experiences of the field were playful, rewarding, and supported by parents. Rapid progress was due to a work ethic instilled by parents ("always do your best") and by increasingly expert and selective teachers, whom parents sought out. Bloom's findings did not exactly contradict those of Terman (no testing was done), but they suggested that nurture and motivation play the lead and supporting roles in the development of a wide range of talent.

Just what general ability IQ tests measure remains uncertain, but increasingly, psychologists and educators have conceptualized giftedness as a function of specialized capabilities and potential for performance in specific fields such as mathematics, biology, dance, or visual arts. A definition of giftedness first offered in a 1971 report to the Congress of the United States by Sidney Marland, then commissioner of education, indicates a much broader concept of giftedness than high IQ scores have been found to measure. "Gifted and talented children are those identified by professionally qualified persons who, by virtue of outstanding abilities, are capable of high performance." He continued,

Children capable of high performance include those with demonstrated achievement or potential ability in any of the following areas, singly or in combination:

1. general intellectual ability

2. specific academic aptitude

3. creative or productive thinking

4. leadership ability

5. visual or performing arts

6. psychomotor ability.

This definition of giftedness, known after its author as the Marland definition, does not distinguish giftedness from talent and includes performance capabilities that are sometimes related only distantly to performance on an IQ test. Nevertheless, the legacy of the Terman study of giftedness is that high IQ test scores remain one among several ways for psychologists and educators to identify intellectual giftedness among children in the general population. Giftedness in academic, creative, leadership, artistic, and psy-chomotor domains, however, is generally identified in other ways.

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