Characteristics of Gifted Adults – Overview

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Characteristics of Gifted Adults – Overview

Category : Gifts

Many people think there is only one characteristic associated with being a gifted adult: high intelligence as defined by an IQ score. Despite this common misconception, being gifted is not an IQ score but how a gifted adult thinks, feels and perceives the world.

Defining Characteristics of Gifted Adults

1) Differentiated Thinking

Differentiated thinking is defined by academics/educators/psychologists in a number of ways: divergent, complex, an IQ score, ability to assimilate significant amounts of information rapidly (though this ability may be subject specific), the need to understand information at a deeper level/to understand why.  Regardless of how differentiated thinking is defined, being gifted means thinking differently than most people and, generally speaking, in a way that can be measured.

Some common markers of gifted thinking include: unconventional perspective, disregard for status quo, the need to ‘figure it out for yourself’, wide variety of interests, the tendency to think about thinking (metacognition), extensive vocabulary, inclination to analyze, curiousity, and the desire to ’solve’ problems.   The differentiated thinking of gifted adults is characterized by the tendency to regularly come to conclusions that are at odds with the accepted thinking and to come to that conclusion quickly.


2) Intensity

It has been suggested that the physiology and differentiated thinking of gifted adults are linked.  In essence, a gifted adult’s nervous system fires faster than the average person creating a heightened internal experience.  For example, a gifted adult will start by thinking about an experience differently than most, simultaneously linking it to and synthesizing it with many other thoughts simultaneously, and then tend to play the thought over in their mind.  This phemonema of the heightened interplay of differentiated thinking and emotion is particular to gifted adults and, while it can take many forms, its core defines what it is to be a gifted adult.

These two characteristics define what it is to be a gifted adult but other factors interact with a gifted adult’s differentiated thinking and intensity; the environment, other personal traits and experience also affect  determine who someone is.  As a result, gifted adults are a diverse group and cannot be defined beyond differentiated thinking and intensity.  Nevertheless, there are additional characteristics that do not define gifted adults, they are more common in gifted adults than the general population.

Also, it should be pointed out, the presence or absence of the characteristics below does not determine if one is a gifted adult; however, having these characteristics, particularly in combination, is a good indicator one is a gifted adult.  Deidre V. Lovecky pointed out that in order to explain characteristics associated with being gifted, it’s necessary to describe them separately but of course, they do not exist stand alone but interact and reinforce each other.

Common Characteristics of Gifted Adults

Overexcitabilities are a way of explaining the intensity found in gifted adults.  Overexcitability is a translation of a Polish word that is meant to convey ‘the capacity to be superstimulated’.  Based on the theories of Dabrowski and Piechowski, it is suggested that gifted adults have stronger sensory experiences and these sensory experiences are quantitatively different than most.  Overexcitabilities are broken down into these categories:

  1. Psychomotor
  2. Sensual
  3. Intellectual
  4. Imaginational
  5. Emotional

Perception – ability to read emotional situations beyond the surface/dislike of superficiality; related to differentiated thinking is the ability to predict outcomes and consequences

Asynchronicity – feeling of being out of step emotionally either with the external environment or internally due to the disconnection between one’s intellectual and emotional states

Entelechy – the need and drive to be all that one is capable of being.

Perfectionism – high standards for one’s self and other people; may be accompanied by guilt and frustration when one is not living up to their expectations

Idealism/Heightened Sense of Morality – the tendency to see things in black and white; ability to be outraged at injustice

Isolation – lack of intellectual peers and different world view often result in sense of being alone and disconnected

Introversion – this can mean needing time alone to think but it also can mean that being be one’s self is necessary to re-charge versus extraverts who become energized as a result of being around other people.  Introversion does not necessarily mean avoiding or not enjoying the company of other people.

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