The uncommonly bright child
Robinson, H.
In M. Lewis & L. A. Rosenblum (Eds.), The Uncommon Child (pp. 57-81). New York: Plenum Press

This article is a book chapter by Halbert Robinson. Based on the author's work with extremely gifted children in a special preschool and in an early college program, it summarizes some of the developmental, psychological, assessment and educational issues facing profoundly gifted children. He identifies these children as being "at-risk for greatness."

Most of the attention of professionals who deal with children has been directed toward those with problems, ranging from mild to severe. When we speak of children who deviate significantly from the average and are thus uncommon in some way or another, we almost always refer to those whose behaviors we want to "normalize," to change for the better. Having been involved in programs of remediation, I have some familiarity with the values and rewards as well as the discouraging aspects of such efforts.

However, I would like to turn now to questions concerning children who are "uncommon" because they are extraordinarily adept or talented in some respect, or have exceptional potential to produce something of great value. These are the children who are "at risk for greatness." The ways in which they differ from others is, in general, something we want to nurture rather than minimize. As clinicians and educators, we are concerned with identifying such children and promoting their healthy development. As researchers, we are presented with a virtually untapped realm of inquiry that may produce findings with important implications for our theories of cognitive growth and our understanding of the relationships among physical, social-emotional, and cognitive aspects of development.

In contrast with other areas of psychology, knowledge about the development of intellectually gifted individuals is based on work accomplished in the first half of this century. Little new information has accrued since the findings of studies begun more than 50 years ago. Existing knowledge about the characteristics of children with superior intellectual abilities is, in fact, based to a very large extent on the work of Lewis Terman, in particular his monumental Genetic Studies of Genius initiated in 1921 (Burks, Jensen, & Terman, 1930; Cox, 1926; Oden, 1968; Terman, 1925; Terman & Oden, 1947, 1959). This longitudinal study of approximately 1500 individuals, most of whom were identified when they were school children, continues to the present day (P.S. Sears & Barbee, 1977; R.R. Sears, 1977). Terman and his colleagues demonstrated that superior intelligence, indicated by superior performance on a standardized test, is associated with a high degree of academic and vocational-professional success, and with a degree of personal and social adjustment which equals or exceeds that of the population at large. These conclusions have been confirmed by a large number of more recent, smaller-scale studies (Gallagher, 1975; U.S. Office of Education, 1972). Indeed, Getzels and Dillon have noted that "research into intellectual giftedness continues to identify and describe high IQ children, confirming Terman's findings with a regularity bordering on redundancy" (1973, p. 34).

Terman began his investigations at a time when gifted individuals were thought to suffer from an affliction of mysterious origin. He was rightly convinced that the prevailing notions about intellectual precocity were largely myths-that such individuals were not, as a group, physically inadequate, social misfits, or prone to insanity, and that the early ripening of their talents did not lead to the early rotting of their psyches. His findings had a very salutary effect in laying to rest these strongly entrenched folk beliefs.

There were, however, a number of shortcomings in the Terman studies (see, e.g., Hughes & Converse, 1962). The sample was a biased one; schools in economically poorer neighborhoods were inadequately canvassed, and most of the children accepted for individual testing were nominated by teachers. Furthermore, Terman tended to treat the sample as a homogeneous group, ignoring the wide range of individual differences on all dimensions, including the cognitive. He also probably tended to exaggerate his major conclusion that high-IQ children are superior in almost all respects and to gloss over the fact that intellectually advanced children do not develop equally well under all circumstances. Even so, the directions proposed by Terman were very much needed in his day, were generally sound, and continue to dominate the field more than half a century after he initiated them. Indeed, most of his findings have held up remarkably well through numerous replications.

It can be said, then, that we possess a fair amount of descriptive longitudinal data about the development of brighter individuals who were doing relatively well when identified in middle childhood. There is much, however, that we do not know. We still know practically nothing, for example, about the development of such individuals during infancy and early childhood. We have little insight into the emergence of various "gifts," or into the fate of those children who seem remarkable when very young but are not so identified later on. Furthermore, our grasp of the intellectual, personal, and social differences within and between groups of gifted persons is completely insufficient.

We have undergone a period of rapid expansion of knowledge in many areas of psychology during a time of virtual standstill in the scientific study of intellectually gifted individuals. We know a great deal more now about basic cognitive processes, for example, and we are possessed of much more sophisticated theories of learning and cognitive development. In many respects, though, most psychological researchers have for the past thirty years or more turned away from an interest in individual differences while they have centered upon specialized theories and specific psychological phenomena.

The single major group which has been approached from a point of view which has emphasized individual differences is that diverse population of individuals who are mentally handicapped in one way or another. For the most part, the descriptive-normative approach to cognitive, motivational, and interpersonal processes, yielding not only means but standard deviations, has otherwise fallen out of favor. It is a perplexing commentary on the state of the art in psychology and education that during the past two or three decades of unprecedented scientific inquiry we have been content to remain with the cognitive measures developed by our old mentors, Alfred Binet, Lewis Terman, and David Wechsler, while we have proceeded to pioneer new frontiers in many areas of lesser importance.

The time appears ripe, as we enter the 1980s, for a new wave of research concerned with individual differences in a variety of functions, particularly intelligence. It would be highly advantageous, I suspect, to apply the insights of the past several decades to that group of individuals who are in one way or another superior in mental functioning. We are now in a much better position than were Terman and his followers to investigate the precise ways in which gifted children and adults deviate from the average and differ among themselves. We can, for example, look for possible qualitative differences in the organization of their mental abilities; examine the strategies they use to process, store, and retrieve information; investigate the processes and formulations they employ in solving problems of various kinds; and so on. Such research could, of course, yield insights into the nature of normal as well as unusual development. We might, moreover, discover better ways to identify, nurture, and support important gifts and thus benefit the individuals who possess them as well as the society as a whole.

A research and service project focused upon gifted children was initiated at the University of Washington in 1974. Our interest was in the identification and nurturance of very young, highly precocious infants and preschool children. It soon became obvious that the needs of this population were great, much greater indeed than we had anticipated. Within days of the first inconspicuous announcement of the study in a local newspaper, more than 300 families had contacted us. Approximately one-half of these returned a lengthy questionnaire concerned with their children's intellectual development. Almost 100 of these families had children in the age range from 2 to 5 years, and approximately 1 in 10 of their children performed at an extraordinarily advanced level in some cognitive domain and/or achieved a Stanford- Binet IQ at least 4 standard deviations above the mean (IQ 164+).

During subsequent years we have refined our criteria and have added to our sample. By the spring of 1979, we had tested a total of 509 children who were thought by their parents to be very intelligent. Approximately one-half of these were identified as very intelligent, i.e., they scored among the top 1% of their age mates when they were 2, 3, 4, or 5 years old. Of this group, a total of 84 were assessed as "highly gifted"; i.e., they exhibited at least one cognitive skill (e.g., verbal reasoning, spatial reasoning, short-term memory, reading, or mathematics) at a level expected of children twice their age, and/or they attained a Stanford-Binet IQ of 164 or above.

Some characteristics of the sample are listed in Table 1. The families come from many segments of the population, though there is a strong overrepresentation of middle-class parents. About one-fifth of the families are from racial minorities. Most of the children in our sample are firstborn. The educational levels of parents

Percentage of cases in
Entire samplen
(N = 509)
Highly precocious group
(N = 84)
Male 51.3 61.9
Female 48.7 38.1
Ethnic minority 20.5o 20.7
Firstborn 69.7 75.0
Mothers- college graduates or above 67.6 76.8
Fathers- college graduates or above 78.5 86.6
nThis summary includes an estimated 25 cases that are no longer active. None of these are in the highly precocious group.
oThis figure is estimated from data available for 91.9% of the total sample. All of the data are available for the highly precocious group.

of both the overall sample and the highly gifted subsample tend to be very high. Indeed, of the latter group, 25 fathers and 11 mothers hold a doctor's degree, whereas only one of these children comes from a family in which the father has only a high school diploma. Most of the children come from intact families.

We recognize, of course, the inherent biases of sample acquisition in studies such as ours. We rely on family initiative in contacting us. Simple logistics prohibit our trying to obtain a "representative" sample of gifted children. Perhaps as a reflection of this fact, the families with whom we interact are highly invested in the welfare of their children.

Almost all of the families have told us that they were surprised by their children's abilities. Most of the parents of the highly gifted group, in addition, admit to some ambivalence about the situation in which they find themselves. On the one hand, they are pleased with their children and proud of their extraordinary progress. On the other hand, they recognize and at times are concerned about the extra burdens they encounter as parents. They are, for example, frustrated by the dismal lack of resources which might provide appropriate learning experiences for their children. Public-school personnel typically indicate that they cannot handle their children but few appropriate private schools are available and all are expensive. Finally, many parents have been accused of bragging about their children, of pushing them and thus robbing them of their childhood. It is as though something has gone wrong for which some fault has to be assigned. Most parents tell us that they experienced a significant sense of relief when we objectively assessed their children's development, documented their special abilities and needs, and provided support for their efforts to cope with the challenge of providing for a child who does not fit the system.

In response to the intriguing research questions which developed as we began to work with these precocious children, as well as to the needs which their families expressed, our program has evolved and expanded. It was soon obvious that we could not simply identify extraordinarily gifted young people and then abandon them. We had somehow to try to support their development through the difficult formative years. The urgent requests of families with older gifted children with unmet needs also made an impact on our plans. As a result of complex forces, then, a comprehensive research and service program has emerged at the University of Washington. The activities of the Child Development Research Group now include:

  1. The longitudinal study, which, as I have indicated, is concerned with the development of approximately 500 children identified when they were 2 to 5 years of age as being "at risk" for intellectual and/or academic precocity. This study, which began in 1974, is supported by the Spencer Foundation.
  2. A preschool for 36 intellectually gifted preschool children, all of whom are included in the longitudinal study. This program, begun in 1976, has been supported in part by the Spencer Foundation and the U.S. Office of Education, as well as by parent fees.
  3. A kindergarten-through-high-school program for children and young people exhibiting extraordinary advancement in academic skills. This Individual Progress Program (IPP) is run by the Seattle Public Schools in collaboration with the Child Development Research Group. It is designed for students who are achieving at least four grade levels beyond the grade appropriate for their age. Some of these children are included in the longitudinal study. Begun in 1978, the IPP currently serves 75 children, balanced for sex and reflecting the racial makeup of the Seattle population. Developmental funds have been supplied by an ESEA, Title 4-C award, but the program will function with a non-supplemented allotment from the Seattle Public School District.
  4. A program of early entrance to the University of Washington for youngsters below the age of 14 who are demonstrably ready for University work. Currently, 17 young people, ranging in age from 10 to 16 years, are enrolled, 9 of them as full-time and 8 as part-time students. It is expected that the Early Entrance Program (EEP) will expand to 40 full-time students during the next two years. This program, begun in 1977, is supported by the Ford Foundation; families are responsible for the usual tuition charges, fees, books, etc.
  5. A diagnostic and counseling program for families who are concerned about the personal, social, and academic progress of their intellectually advanced children. Approximately 60 families have been seen each year since 1977. The program is supported, in part, by the Ford Foundation.

Four Exceptional Children
The children with whom we have worked are an extremely diverse group who exhibit a variety of extraordinary talents. Some of them show startling skills in specific areas while others seem capable across- the-board. There is, then, no typical gifted child in our group. In an attempt, however, to impart a feel for our young subjects, we present thumbnail sketches of four of them. Michael and Susan were identified for the longitudinal study. Steven was first seen as a diagnostic and counseling case and is now a part of the EEP. Barbara was the first child identified for the EEP.

Michael is one of the most astonishing children we are following. We were contacted by his parents, both of whom have advanced professional degrees, when he was not quite 2 years old. They were distressed at not knowing how to respond to the very rapid development of their only child. When Michael was 2 years and 3 months old, the family visited our laboratory. At that time, they described a youngster who had begun speaking at age 5 months and by 6 months had exhibited a vocabulary of more than 50 words. He started to read English when he was 13 months old.

In our laboratory he spoke five languages and could read in three of them. He understood addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and square root, and he was fascinated by a broad range of scientific constructs. He loved to make puns, frequently bilingual ones. He exhibited an uncanny directional sense and was able to use maps without difficulty. He located on a city map the block in which he lived, for example, and he easily found Seattle, New York, and other cities on a map of the U.S., in a regional atlas, and on a world globe. He had an intensely experimental attitude; he dropped a raisin and then climbed onto a stool to drop it again, for example, to see "if gravity works high up, too." Michael was a very active youngster in our laboratory, not especially interested in our tests, but he was eventually persuaded to try some items. On the Stanford-Binet at age 2 years, 3 months, the minimum estimate of his mental age was 4 years, 9 months. We listed him at that time as having an IQ in excess of 180.

Michael was again tested at age 4 years, 6 months. On the Stanford-Binet, he attained a mental age of 12 years, 1 month; the resulting IQ is in excess of 220. He attained a Basal at Year X, and earned credit even at the Average Adult level by correctly defining 20 vocabulary words. He was restless and playful, especially during verbal tasks which did not call for action responses, and it was the feeling of the examiner that he might well have succeeded at additional items. He repeated 9 digits forward and 5 backwards, and performed the Block Design subtest of the WISC-R on a par with children 10 years and 6 months old. On the Peabody Individual Achievement Test, Reading Recognition was at the 18-year-level, his Reading Comprehension at the 11-year level, his general information at the 12-year level, and his mathematical reasoning at the 101/2-year level.

Michael is, indeed, a remarkable youngster with very special educational needs and a devoted but frustrated family. His parents have provided for his education as best they can. He has had tutors in foreign languages, mathematics, and some sciences. His father has worked with him on a broad range of subjects, always following Michael's lead and trying to maintain a comfortable pace. He has not been, as yet, in any formal educational program.

Susan's parents contacted the project in response to the initial newspaper announcement. They reported outstanding language skills, memory, and reading ability. When tested at age 2 years, 11 months, she attained a Mental Age of 6 years, 4 months on the Stanford-Binet, and an IQ in excess of 180. Susan's parents reported that she had spoken five-word sentences by the age of 20 months, and had begun reading at 2 years, 10 months. When we tested her academic skills at age 3 years, 11 months, she was reading at the third-grade level and demonstrated a knowledge of mathematical concepts at the first-grade level.

Susan attended the project's preschool for two years, and began kindergarten in our program. The staff was hard pressed to keep up with her extremely advanced skills and her incredible enthusiasm for learning. She was an active, vivacious, highly verbal child. By age 5, she was reading for pleasure advanced children's books such as The Little House on the Prairie series. Her parents reported that she had become good friends with the local librarian, whom she would visit on her own, riding the bicycle she had mastered at age 4. She enjoys creative writing; one of her poems won honorable mention in Cricket magazine.

When the family moved out of the state in the middle of her kindergarten year, they were understandably concerned about finding the right school for Susan. She was eventually placed in a first-grade classroom of a program for gifted children. When last tested at age 6 years, 5 months, Susan was reading at the sixth-grade level and her mathematics skills were at the seventh-grade level. She charmed the tester by dramatizing her definitions to the vocabulary items of the Stanford-Binet, which she passed at the Average Adult level by correctly defining 22 words. She attained a mental age of 12 years, 10 months, and an estimated IQ again in excess of 180.

Steven was recognized early as an obvious misfit in age-graded classes. He attended kindergarten at age 5 in a suburban school, followed by first grade in a private school for gifted children, and second grade back in his suburban neighborhood school. When he was 8 years old, school authorities advanced him to fifth grade and at 9 he began junior high school. At age 10 he entered the EEP, taking university courses in mathematics while simultaneously taking English and physical education courses at a junior high school and mathematics and science classes at a senior high school. He became a full-time university student during Summer, 1979, at which time he was 11 years old.

Steven was first seen as a Diagnostic and Counseling Center case at age 9 years, 0 months. His performance on the WISC-R was off scale; his mental age on the Stanford-Binet was 20 years, 6 months, yielding an IQ in excess of 200. When he was 9 years, 6 months old he was administered the Washington Pre-College Test and scored at the 85th percentile on verbal scales and at the 65th percentile on quantitative scales compared to high school juniors who subsequently attended four-year colleges. His SAT scores at age 9 years, 11 months were 630 on the M (mathematics) scale and 550 on the V (verbal) scale.

Steven is an extraordinarily well-adjusted and articulate, but rather quiet youngster, who is well liked by his classmates at all levels. His extracurricular interests tend to center around cars, engines, and electronic gadgets. He is poised and self-confident, able to hold his own in conversations with chronological-age peers as well as adults. He has had no difficulty in adjusting to college, either academically or socially. He has had several vexing problems, however; he still writes in block letters and finds it difficult to take notes, and his mother won't let him take the chemistry laboratory course because she feels it is too dangerous.

Barbara was always an exceptional student, but during elementary school there was little to challenge her. On the advice of her fifth-grade teacher, her parents enrolled her in a private school for gifted children, but even that school was soon outgrown. Barbara was seen when she was 12 years, 5 months old. On the Stanford-Binet and the WISC-R she exceeded the ceiling. On the Washington Pre-College Test she scored at the 90th percentile in the quantitative areas and at the 75th percentile in verbal areas when compared with high school juniors who subsequently entered four-year colleges in the State of Washington. On the SAT she scored 750 M and 630 V.

Every index indicated that Barbara was academically prepared for college. In Spring Quarter, 1977, she became one of the first two students admitted to the EEP, taking calculus and astronomy at the University while continuing full-time in the junior high school for gifted children. During the following year she attended a private high school, skipping one grade. She entered the University full-time in Summer, 1978. Currently a junior, she is taking honors courses in mathematics, physics, and literature and has earned a cumulative grade point average of 3.87. (Course grades are awarded in decimal gradations from 0.0 to 4.0.)

Barbara appears pleased with her life as a university student. She reports that she has never been so happy. She had few friends before, most of them friends of her older brother and sisters. She says that she now has a broad circle of her own friends. In addition to her course work she maintains an active extracurricular schedule of sports and entertainment with friends, most of whom are other girls in the EEP and college men. To observers, she appears to be a poised, intelligent, articulate, and warm young woman who is in a challenging situation but is very positive in her outlook.

In the process of working with our subjects and their families and in initiating and developing research and service activities on their behalf, the investigators of the Child Development Research Group have been forced to consider a number of important issues concerning intellectually gifted individuals. Precisely how, for example, should we define "giftedness"? What is its etiology? What characteristics are displayed by individuals who are "gifted"? To what extent and with respect to what dimensions can they be considered a homogeneous group? How many highly gifted individuals exist in our population? Are there meaningful long-term differences between those who are highly gifted and those who are moderately gifted? What is the nature of current educational programs for gifted children? How appropriately do they address the special needs of those they serve?

In subsequent sections of this paper, I will consider in a summary fashion our working hypotheses and tentative conclusions with respect to each of these questions. What follows is based on our understanding of the research literature, our day-to-day experience with gifted children and their families, and our initial research findings.

Definition of Giftedness
Prior to this century "giftedness" or "genius" was identified as exceptional performance in a valued area, a performance exceeding ordinary adult standards by some sort of quantum jump. The notion of genius as a function of age was not given prominence, and young children were rarely, if ever, considered geniuses. Individuals such as Karl Gauss, John Locke, and Wolfgang Mozart were certainly recognized as child prodigies because of their extraordinary abilities, but it was not until they became young adults and produced truly remarkable new and substantive achievements that they were thought of as geniuses. With the development of intelligence tests, the definition of giftedness has come increasingly to refer to performance on these standardized instruments rather than to extraordinary achievement in a socially valued area of the real world. Particularly for children, the characteristics of genius has been specified as attainment of the top of the distribution of intelligence test scores. Tests have achieved enormous prestige for the identification of individuals with unusual intellectual abilities. Many children have been identified as "geniuses" whose actual achievements in life tasks have been merely average or even lower.

Today we maintain a two-faceted definition, one for adults and one for children. When we refer to an adult as a "genius:' we are likely to mean that he or she actually demonstrates remarkable skills and is making an unusual and welcome contribution to human endeavors, perhaps as a scientist, mathematician, pianist, painter, or statesman. On the other hand, when we refer to a child as a "genius:' we are likely to mean that his or her development has progressed at a remarkable rate in a more general sense, i.e., that the child behaves like individuals who are considerably older. Rate of development is the important component of this definition. Our switch to deviation IQs rather than ratio IQs notwithstanding, the determination of intelligence levels of children is predicated on the operation of a developmental age-gradient.

Using rate as our criterion, we tend to evaluate the progress of gifted children in any of three ways. Sometimes we refer to children who attain high IQs, i.e., who score exceptionally high on tests of general intelligence such as the Stanford-Binet or one of the Wechsler scales. For other children, giftedness is identified through tests of mental functioning which tap reasonably specific intellectual abilities; we may, for example, identify children who excel at memory, at spatial reasoning, or at verbal tasks. Finally, we may identify children whose giftedness is seen in a talent that is valued, such as the ability to solve scientific problems, to perform with a musical instrument, to write with skill, or to play a masterful game of chess. With any such children, whether one uses general ability (IQ), a specific component of cognitive functioning (e.g., short-term memory), or a specific talent (e.g., chess), it is the rate model that determines the children to be singled out.

Terman's research, and that which has followed, has demonstrated that, at least for school-age children who attain high scores on intelligence tests, the rate model tends to allow for reasonably accurate predictions of adult status. There appears to be a finite maturational period during which most development occurs; children who grow intellectually at the most rapid rate progress further during the developmental era and maintain their superiority into adulthood. A few of these high-IQ individuals subsequently earn the rubric "genius" by our adult standards; that is, by their unusual contributions and achievements. Just how to predict which of them will attain this exalted status remains a mystery.

We also use rate concepts at the other end of the scale, to define deficiency in intelligence as retardation in mental development. A broad range of studies (see Robinson & Robinson, 1976) have demonstrated the validity of this approach. The value of low scores on intelligence tests for the prediction of such performance variables as success in school is even greater than is the value of high scores; indeed, very low scores, even within the first two years of life, tend to be surprisingly stable.

The evidence for a rate model is, then, well established. It is also clear, however, that differences exist among gifted, average, and retarded persons which are difficult to ascribe altogether to differences in speed or rate of development. Many people have talked of qualitative differences in cognitive functioning which might help to explain these differences, but, to my knowledge, no single phenomenon has been unmistakably described in such terms. In our work, we have not yet been able to come up with any useful descriptions of qualitative differences which hold across even a subgroup of gifted children. For the most part, indeed, rate descriptions do rather well. We are pursuing this issue on a number of fronts and are not at all willing to admit defeat, but it remains clear to us that rate-related developmental descriptions have great utility and generality in describing the unusual abilities of highly intelligent children.

We are aware that some progress is being made by researchers who have been interested in possible qualitative features of the cognitive functioning of retarded persons. The group working with Herman Spitz (1978) at the Johnstone Center in New Jersey, for example, has been investigating cognitive tasks on which mentally retarded persons do significantly worse than expected on the basis of the level of their performance on general intelligence tests. Similarly, the failure of retarded persons to activate and select memorial strategies or to be aware of their own behavior in this regard in comparison with nonretarded persons of similar mental age is a potential area of investigation (Ellis, 1979).

Another group of investigators who have suggested the role of qualitative features in the cognitive functioning of gifted individuals are some Piagetian developmentalists. Webb (1974), for example, minimized the notion of individual differences in rate of stage-attainment, but maintained that once gifted children attained a stage, their mastery of the mental operations associated with that stage was highly efficient and broadly generalized. He suggested that intellectually superior children, identified as such by standard intelligence tests, are less precocious in logical reasoning ability, or "true intelligence," than they are in superficial verbal knowledge and verbal fluency. Others, however, have pointed to the high correlations between the more traditional psychometric measures and tests of Piagetian attainment (e.g., Humphreys, 1979; Jordan & Jordan, 1975). Our gifted preschool children tend to achieve mental functions, such as conservation of quantity and the understanding of the constancy of gender across situations and over time, many months before children of average ability. Moreover, attainment on such measures appears more highly correlated with mental age than chronological age (Krinsky, 1978; Miller, Roedell, Slaby, & Robinson, 1978).

Etiology of Intellectual Precocity
Although one must surely wonder about the origins of precocity, and especially about the differential contribution of genetic and environmental factors to this unusual status, our study is not likely to shed much light on this question. On the face of it, our children seem to have had the best of everything a very positive kind of genetic endowment and physical integrity, nurtured in stimulating and appreciative families.

On the basis of our experience, we are able to comment on the degree to which parents report having consciously tried to produce a "gifted," or at least a developmentally accelerated child, through direct teaching. We have in fact very few cases in which the parents admit to having pushed their children to excel. As far as we know, no one instituted a plan to "raise a genius." Almost all of our parents have provided environments that are rich in cognitive inputs and social and emotional supports, but we have no evidence that the homes of our children are any richer or more supportive than countless other middle- class homes.

One obvious fact about our sample is its diversity. Most of our parents are obviously very intelligent, but not all are well educated. Most of them are interested in recognizing their children's potentials and nourishing them, but not all. While we are completely dependent in the longitudinal study on the initiative of parents, this is not the case with nominations for the IPP or the EEP. There are, in all our groups, exceptions to the overall trend for the children to come from very favorable backgrounds. It is worth noting, however, that the proportion of children from unremarkable or even apparently detrimental backgrounds is low in all the groups.

The 84 highly gifted children come from families with even more education than the families in the larger sample. Yet, in almost every case, the children in the highest group have amazed their parents with their precocious development. There are instances in which parents have actually tried to slow down their children. A few parents of early readers have, for example, removed from their homes all the children's books which might prove tempting. Most parents, however, have taken their lead from their children and have tried to supply what they seemed to need and to enjoy.

We have come to think of the children's intellectual abilities in trait terms--"highly verbal," "highly spatial"-or at least as defining precocious states-"early readers," "precocious mathematicians." We are aware, however, that such trait-state descriptors yield no etiological information. An important aspect of our longitudinal study will be to examine the reliability and stability of these descriptors over time. Will children of age 2 or 3 years who are extraordinary performers on verbal tasks, such as defining vocabulary words, still be "gifted" at age 8 or 9? Will they grow up to produce verbal products of exceptional worth? What is to be the fate of a 2-year-old who can repeat seven digits forward and five digits in reverse order? What about a 3-year-old who can solve most of the block-design and maze problems on the WISC- R? Do identifiable patterns emerge with some regularity? Are the precursors of extraordinary ability in adulthood the obvious ones, or are there complex interactions of abilities that permit children to develop exceptional talents? To what extent can education and interpersonal experiences be devised to exert positive influence on the rate of development, the richness, pleasure, and productivity of an adult life?

Variability with Groups of Gifted Children
If any of us should be asked to write a paper describing the average child, we would probably refuse, arguing that the concept of "the average child" is a useless abstraction. The same argument is certainly appropriate with respect to gifted children. Many writers have attempted to specify the characteristics of intellectually gifted children, but it is impossible to do so. If one defines giftedness in terms of unusually rapid development in at least one area of cognitive functioning, one is left with at least as much diversity in this group on the traits not selected for as in any other group of children. By the spring of 1979, for example, we had identified a group of 22 children who, when they were 2 to 5 years old, were reading at or above levels expected for children twice their age. Although homogeneous in their extraordinary reading achievements, these children are extremely diverse in other ways. Their Stanford-Binet IQs, for example, range from slightly above average to "off scale."

Granted that there is a great diversity in traits other than those by which the children have been identified, what about diversity within the dimensions used to identify homogeneous groups-scores on intelligence tests and on tests of academic skills, motivational descriptors, scientific interests, and so on? No index has been used more often in the identification of gifted children than has the IQ. A Stanford-Binet IQ range of 67-133 is expected to encompass 98% of the population, though the actual proportion is probably slightly smaller than this. In our sample, the range of scores above 133 is, however, greater than 66 points, for we have several children with IQs exceeding 200. Within the top 1% of the IQ distribution, then, there is at least as much spread of talent as there is in the entire range from the 1st to the 99th percentile. Moreover, those we might call the "supergifted," (those with IQs 4 or more standard deviations above the mean) tend to be as unlike the "garden-variety gifted" (with IQs 2 or 3 deviations above the mean) as the "garden-variety gifted" are unlike children with scores clustered within 1 standard deviation of the mean of the population.

Patterns of Variability
One of the most interesting preliminary findings to come from our longitudinal study of gifted young children is the fact that many of them show highly differentiated abilities in important cognitive areas. Contrary to popular folklore and to cognitive theories which hold development to be a process of increasing differentiation of specific, independent characteristics from an initial unitary system or organismic whole (Thompson & Grusec, 1970), we are discovering distinct subgroups of very young children who show highly developed spatial reasoning abilities, highly developed vocabularies and other indices of verbal development, exceptional ability at memory tasks, unusual mathematical skills, or very early reading, as well as a group who score very high across-the-board on tests of general intelligence.

As has been indicated, our criteria for designating extraordinary ability are very strict. For the groups designated as extraordinary in specific abilities the criterion is a score on tests such as the Wechsler Block Design and Mazes (to assess spatial abilities) or the Peabody individual Achievement Test (to assess reading and mathematics skills) equal to the average score for children at least twice the gifted child's chronological age. For the group designated as high in general intellectual skills, the criterion is a score on the Stanford-Binet intelligence Scale which is at least four standard deviations above the mean, i.e., 164+ (Robinson, Jackson, & Roedell, 1977, 1978).

An important point with respect to specific abilities is that young children who are exceptionally adept in one area are not necessarily very unusual in other areas. Intraindividual differences among abilities are the rule, not the exception. Extraordinary spatial reasoning is often accompanied by only moderately advanced verbal skills. Children who performed remarkable feats of memory may exhibit more ordinary abilities in other respects. We have not, however, found individuals who are extraordinary in one area of mental functioning and average or below average on all others. We certainly have not identified any idiot savants.

Of the 84 children who were 5 years old or younger when they met at least one of our criteria for extraordinary giftedness, there are 29 children with extraordinarily high IQs, 22 early readers, 22 spatial reasoners, 37 memory experts, and 4 mathematicians. (Some children are, of course, in more than one subgroup). Almost all are from the greater Seattle area, which has a population of approximately one million. We know that we have by no means located all such children in the area. We have approximately once each year placed an appeal in the Seattle newspapers, and have waited for the parents to call. In fact, we have had all we could handle responding to the parents who contact us. Initial evaluation takes place through a questionnaire sent to all the parents and intensive testing of their children. All children whose parents completed the identification process have become part of our longitudinal study sample. In the process of evaluating children, we have been forced to recognize that there are many more truly exceptional young children in the population than would be predicted on the basis of the normal curve alone. Simply on IQ grounds, one would expect no more than three children in 100,000 to score 164 or above. In a population of approximately 150,000 children in the age range 2 to 5 years during the period 1974-1979, we have already located 27 children1 with Stanford-Binet IQs of 164 or higher, thus exceeding our theoretical allowance six times over, even with a sample restricted to those whose parents were alerted to our program, aware of their child's unusual abilities, and interested enough to contact us. We cannot estimate in the same statistical fashion how many early readers, spatial whizzes, or verbally skilled children we should discover, but our criteria are strict and the numbers found have certainly exceeded our expectations.

Stability of Advanced Status
As I have mentioned, the literature is almost completely devoid of studies which have attempted to shed light on the stability of precocity identified at a very early age. None of the longitudinal studies of gifted children has begun with infants or preschoolers. The single exception is a report by Willerman and Fiedler (1974, 1977) concerned with the development of infants who were part of the National Collaborative Study. Approximately 100 of these children achieved an IQ of 140 or above when they were 4 years old. These children were not generally advanced on the Bayley Scales at 8 months, nor were they as advanced on the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for children at 7 years of age. At 8 months their mean mental and motor scores corresponded with a developmental quotient of about 95, their mean IQ at 4 years was 148, and their mean IQ at 7 years was 123.

Our study is designed to yield longitudinal data of several kinds. We have as yet only preliminary data, but preliminary inspection of the longitudinal patterns in the test performance of our initial sample suggests that stability of test scores themselves is not very high. Among the first 65 children tested initially at age 2 or 3 years, and again at age 4 or 5 years, the correlation is only about .50. About as many children gained in IQ as lost, although extreme changes were more likely to be positive than negative in direction. The modal phenomenon was a loss of up to 1 standard deviation, but 19 children gained more than 16 points from first to later testing while 5 lost more than 16 points. One child, a girl, gained 65 points from one session to the next. There was no relationship between sex and IQ change. As might be expected, the direction of change was significantly related to the child's initial IQ level. The pattern suggests that, within this sample, the children's scores regress on retest, but to a population mean close to the sample mean (IQ approximately 130) rather than to the mean of 100 for the standardization population Gackson, 1978).

Predictive Validity of Parental Report
We have been surprised and pleased with the predictive validity of parental reports. We do not ask parents to estimate their child's maturity level, which they often cannot do, but we do request of them straightforward descriptions of their child's capabilities which we can match to developmental norms. Parents are also asked to tell us of unusual specific incidents that might suggest outstanding abilities. In a study of 36 of our children it was determined that the parent-questionnaire score, awarded at the time the child was 2 or 3 years old, predicted the Stanford-Binet IQ at 4 or 5 years as well (1 = .53) as did Stanford-Binet IQ at 2 or 3 years (r = .51). The parent-information score, the Stanford-Binet IQ, and mother's education accounted for 53% of the variance in IQ at 4 or 5 years (multiple R = .73). The addition of the parent-questionnaire scores significantly improved the prediction made on the basis of first IQ alone (R2 change = .18), as did the subsequent addition of mother's educational level (R2 change = .09) Gackson, 1978).

The Highly Gifted
It is important to note that most previous research has, in fact, dealt with "garden-variety gifted" children. We know that these moderately gifted children (roughly those in the IQ range 120-150, if IQ is taken as the index) tend as a group to be socially adept, popular with age mates, and well adjusted (Dolbear, 1912; Terman, 1922, 1925, 1954; Witty, 1940). In comparison with average children, they are more socially involved with peers and the community at large (Hollingworth, 1930; Martinson, 1961; Miles, 1964). On the average, they are even better athletes (Terman, 1925). In other words, these children as a group seem to achieve a rather positive quality of life with respect not only to intellectual and achievement skills, but also in their relationships with others.

None of these studies reveals the whole truth about gifted children, however. Very few have touched upon the truly exceptional group whose developmental rate approaches and occasionally exceeds twice the average. The evidence about such children is extremely scanty, due to their relative rarity and the episodic way in which they have come to the attention of professionals. The data which are available tend to be anecdotal. Generally speaking the literature concerning the highly gifted consists of case reports (e.g., McCurdy, 1957, 1966; Mill, 1924; Weiner, 1956), an examination of the few children with IQs above 170 in the Terman sample, and a small group of children examined and described by Hollingworth (1942) in New York City.

The weight of this largely clinical evidence suggests that members of the highly advanced group may not fare as well in many respects as those with more moderate gifts. Terman himself did not pay much attention to this group, and it is, therefore, difficult to extract specific evidence about them from his reports. There is some indication, however, that the subjects in his study with IQs exceeding 170 did less well during childhood with respect to a number of personal and social variables (Burks et at., 1930). On subsequent follow-up during the middle years they were not, however, significantly different on a variety of personal-social adjustment indices from the group as a whole (Terman & Oden, 1947). Hollingworth's (1942) famous study of school-age children with IQs over 180 yielded some tragic findings of under- achievement, alienation, and suicide. As Terman admitted, "The child of 180 IQ has one of the most difficult problems of social adjustment that any human being is ever called upon to meet" (Burks et at., 1930, p. 265). Similarly, Hollingworth concluded that the majority of children testing above 180 IQ "have great difficulty in finding playmates in the ordinary course of events who are congenial both in size and mental ability. Thus they are thrown back upon themselves to work out forms of solitary, intellectual play" (1942, p. 78).

These authors were not saying that extraordinary talent carries with it the seeds of maladjustment. Rather, they recognized the discrepancy between the expectations of family members, peers, and teachers, on the one hand, which tend to be based on the child's age and size, and the child's own abilities, interests, and desires, on the other hand, which tend to reflect quite a different maturity level. Extraordinarily gifted children are often not seen as merely bright and competent; they are perceived as different and strange, and are often unsettling to those with whom they interact.

In light of the paucity of knowledge about this group, and simultaneously in light of their extraordinary potential for contribution to the common good, and perhaps for serious maladjustment and under- achievement, the Child Development Research Group has focused in particular on extraordinarily gifted children and young people. As I have said, we have thus far with the longitudinal study accumulated a target group of 84 highly gifted youngsters identified by age 5; the Individual Progress Program in the Seattle Public Schools admits highly gifted children; and the Early Entrance Program, by selecting only children below age 14 who are ready for university entrance, is also targeted on highly gifted youngsters. It is our hope and expectation that as we follow their development over the next few years we will learn a good deal about the adjustment patterns of highly gifted children.

Acceleration versus Enrichment of Education
Educators have the task of dealing with the discrepancy between gifted children's intellectual advancement and their chronological age. Their responses have tended to vary considerably over time. The proponents of special approaches to education for intellectually gifted children can be divided into two distinct camps: one group favors enrichment (i.e., keeping children for the most part with their own age mates but extending their horizons through special projects, challenging special classes, or individualized instruction), and the other group, a much smaller number today, favors acceleration (i.e., exposing younger children to educational programs intended for those one to several years older). Both these approaches are intended to provide a challenge or growth experience for the children.

Acceleration practices were at one time the common mode, both in one-room schoolhouses and in urban schools where passing, failing, and skipping grades were options exercised deliberately by educators to match children and learning tasks (Kett, 1974). Indeed, even today we see acceleration as the usual pattern for children with unusual gifts in art, music, foreign language, and athletic skills. In classes for students learning to paint, to swim, to ski, to play the violin, to read a foreign language, and to accomplish in myriad other skill areas, teachers are much less interested in chronological age than in the individual's ability to execute the tasks involved and his or her maturity of understanding and judgment in the specific area.

The research literature tends to favor the various acceleration models of education as better supporting academic progress and more effectively facilitating personal social development. Appropriately selected individuals who enter kindergarten or first grade at a younger-than-average age tend to do very well (Birch, 1954; Hobson, 1963; Worcester, 1956) as do those who skip grades (Burks et al., 1930; Engle, 1935; Morgan, 1959; Terman & Oden, 1947) and those who leave high school a year or two early to enter college (Fund for the Advancement of Education, 1953; George, Cohn, & Stanley, in press). The results of numerous studies indicate that acceleration is frequently beneficial from an academic point of view and also as concerns personal, social, and emotional development. Indeed, following an exhaustive review of the available research, Daurio (1977) was forced to conclude that acceleration, when accomplished in a sensible manner, seems to produce beneficial results when viewed from almost any perspective.

Enrichment programs are, in fact, seldom able to meet the needs of the very highly gifted. Such children are usually grouped with others who are only modestly advanced, so that the discrepancy with their own level is insufficiently reduced and they are very nearly as bored in classes for the gifted as in their regular school classes. It is also true that enrichment classes tend to promote a certain degree of acceleration, at least in basic skills. Unfortunately, school systems have seldom formulated consistent programs for children of advanced abilities which provide continuity of experience over the span of the school years. A child subjected to an "enrichment" program one year and none the next may be more exquisitely disappointed in school, and more discrepant with age mates because of the acceleration provided in the gifted class, than the child who has been undiscovered or given no special attention. Although children while enrolled tend to do well in enrichment programs (Daurio, 1977) over the long run, the results are likely to be disheartening and perhaps even detrimental to the child who is extraordinarily gifted (Meeker, 1968; Stanley, 1977).

It is important to note again that almost all of the enrichment versus acceleration research has concerned the moderately gifted. Evidence concerning highly gifted individuals is much less extensive and systematic. However, retrospective case studies of eminent men and women, persons with extraordinary abilities and outstanding achievements, indicate that their talents were generally recognized when they were very young (Pressey, 1955) and that their childhoods were spent in relative isolation from their peers (Cox, 1926). They were nurtured throughout their developing years by their gifted families and were tutored individually rather than enrolled in schools with their age mates (McCurdy, 1957).

Under these circumstances it is discouraging that the current consensus among educators and the general public strongly favors the enrichment model, even for highly exceptional children (Birch, Tisdall, Barney, & Marks, 1965; Braga, 1971; Famiglietti, Jackson, & Robinson, 1977; Haier, & Solano, 1976; Pyryt, 1976). This stance seems to stem from a commitment to the cherished proposition that "all men are created equal," and the corollary assumption that it is undemocratic or at least nonegalitarian and elitist to move bright children ahead of their slower age mates. There is also an assumption; which is totally at odds with the evidence, that children denied the opportunity to grow up with chronological peers may be impeded in social and emotional development (Hollingworth, 1936; Meister & Odell, 1951). Only recently has the assumption been questioned that "peer" status is conferred by anything other than equal chronological age (Lewis, Young, Brooks, & Michelson, 1975; Lougee, Grueneich, & Hartup, 1977).

The purpose of this paper has been to demonstrate that the field of intellectual excellence, much neglected after a promising start in the 1920s and 1930s, is an area in which good research is possible, and that the potential value of such research is incalculable. The definition of giftedness should, though, be expanded beyond the concept of general intelligence or "high IQ" to include unusual competence in specific cognitive functions and skills areas.

More descriptive research is needed. The course of development from infancy and early childhood to the middle school years is almost completely uncharted for bright children, especially for those who are highly gifted. Experimental research which seeks to determine the nature of cognitive functioning among and between groups of gifted individuals is even more necessary. For example, although there may well be qualitative differences in the intellectual processes by which gifted and nongifted children learn and solve problems, the research findings in this area demonstrate conclusively only that there are rate differences. Is it the case that gifted children simply develop more rapidly and attain a quantitatively higher level of functioning as adults, or are they also in some ways qualitatively different?

Those doing research with gifted children should be aware of the probability that they will find more of them than the normal-curve table would lead them to predict. This may be particularly the case for those in the extraordinarily gifted group. Prospective researchers should also recognize that parents may be better at identifying gifted children than are teachers or even psychometric instruments. Above all, those who propose to do research with gifted young people should be prepared for a challenge. They are an enormously exciting and charming, if sometimes perplexing, group with which to work.


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