Feelings and attitudes of gifted students
Field, T., Harding, J., Yando, R., Gonzalez, K., Lasko, D., Bendell, D., & Marks, C.
Adolescence
Libra Publishers, Inc.
Vol. 33, No. 130, pp. 331-342
Summer 1998

This article discusses gifted high school students and their self-perceptions. Overall, the study finds that, contrary to most research in this area, these students felt very well adjusted. Teachers agreed with the students in all areas except that the students rated themselves as happier than their teachers rated them. Authored by Tiffany Field, Jeff Harding, Regina Yando, Ketty Gonzalez, David Lasko, Debra Bendell and Carol Marks.

    ABSTRACT
    Differences between the self-perceptions of gifted high school freshmen (n = 62) and nongifted peers (n = 162) were assessed regarding intimacy with family and peers, social support, family responsibilities, self-esteem, depression, and risk-taking behavior. Gifted students perceived themselves as being more intimate with friends, assuming fewer family responsibilities, and taking more risks (both sports- and danger-related risks). Contrary to the literature suggesting delays in the social development of gifted students, these data indicate that gifted students may be socially precocious when compared with their nongifted peers. Gifted students and their teachers were also administered the Perceptions about Giftedness Scale. Gifted students reported feeling the same as, or better than, their peers about their academic and social skills, and their teachers closely agreed. However, the teachers rated the gifted students as being less happy than the students rated themselves.

Gifted students' psychological characteristics have been the subject of many studies (Janos, Fung, & Robinson, 1985; Kerr, Colangelo, & Gaeth, 1988; Loeb & Jay, 1987; Olszewski-Kubilius, Kulieke, & Krasney, 1988; Whalen & Csikszentmihalyi, 1989). However, most have focused on a single dimension. For example, Schowinski and Reynolds (1985) looked solely at anxiety in high-IQ children. Others have examined self-image (Whalen & Csikszentmihalyi, 1989), attitudes toward giftedness (Kerr et al., 1988), and depression (Berndt, Kaiser, & Van Aalst, 1982). Generally, these single-dimension studies suggest that gifted students have positive academic self-concepts but negative or ambiguous social relationships, although the literature is somewhat inconsistent. For example, gifted students had higher academic and social self-concepts in some studies (Karnes & Wherry, 1981; Kelly & Colangelo, 1984), but negative or ambiguous social confidence (Kerr et al., 1988) and lower expectations for social versus academic success (Ross & Parker, 1980) in others.

Another problem with these findings is that comparisons of gifted and nongifted groups, as well as comparisons across studies, are questionable because of sample variations. For example, comparisons have been made between a relatively homogeneous group of gifted students and a heterogeneous group of nongifted students (e.g., Olszewski-Kubilius et al., 1988). In addition, the recruitment criteria have varied across studies. Some selected students based on scholastic aptitude (e.g., Mason, Adams, & Blood, 1966), while others recruited students who had participated in gifted programs earlier in their education (e.g., Tomlinson-Keasey & Smith-Winberry, 1983).

The present study attempted to avoid these problems by comparing gifted and nongifted students from a homogeneous sample within the same school. In addition, not just one but several dimensions were assessed—social, emotional, and cognitive. Gifted students' self-perceptions were compared with those of nongifted students on intimacy with family and peers, social support, family responsibilities, self-esteem, depression, and risk-taking behavior. Finally, gifted students and their teachers were administered the Perceptions about Giftedness Scale.

METHOD
Sample
The sample was composed of 224 high school freshmen. Sixty-two were gifted (32 females and 30 males) and 162 were nongifted (85 females and 77 males). Their average age was 14.5 years. The criterion for participation in the gifted program was an IQ of 132 or above. The students were primarily white, black, or Hispanic (see Table 1 for distribution), and their self-reported socioeconomic status (SES) was as follows: low to low-middle, 14%; middle, 59%; and upper-middle to high, 27%. Their parents were also fairly representative of the middle-income group and most had a high school, college, or advanced degree (see Table 1).

Procedure
The students completed several scales (in a questionnaire format) on family and peer intimacy, social support, family responsibilities, self-esteem, depression, and risk-taking behavior. In addition, the Perceptions about Giftedness Scale was completed by those students enrolled in the gifted program. The questionnaire was administered during English classes near the end of the school year. Answers were recorded on computer scan sheets which, to ensure confidentiality and foster honest responses, did not include students' names. The questionnaire required an average of 45 minutes to complete.

Table 1

Distribution of Gifted and Nongifted Students by Ethnicity and Parental Education

Ethnic Group

Gifted

(n=62)

Nongifted

(n=162)

White, Non-Hispanic

49%

26%

Black

9%

13%

Hispanic

29%

53%

Asian

11%

4%

Other

2%

4%

Education Level Completed

Mother

Father

Gifted

Nongifted

Gifted

Nongifted

Grade School

5%

11%

9%

9%

High School

35%

49%

15%

43%

College

26% 25% 32% 19%
Master's/Professional 31% 14% 32% 24%
Doctoral 3% 1% 12% 5%

Measures
The scales used in this study tapped the following areas. Background and lifestyle. The Background Information Questionnaire (Field & Yando, 1991) includes demographic questions (gender, ethnicity, extracurricular activities, gifted program status, parents' marital status and education levels, and self-perceived socioeconomic status); relationship questions (closeness to siblings and relatives, number of close friends, gender of friends, and important person and the relationship of that person); lifestyle questions (exercise, eating problems, violence/angry feelings, suicidal thoughts, and drug and alcohol use); and happiness questions (with friends, family, and self).

Intimacy. The Intimacy Scales (Blyth, Hill, & Thiel, 1982) assess degree of intimacy with mother, father, and best friend. The 24 items are answered on a 5-point Likert-type scale (responses range from not at all to very much). Higher scores signify greater intimacy.

Social support. The Social Support Scale (Field & Yando, 1991) was formed from background questions on parent relationships, closeness to siblings and other relatives, number of close friends, and steady girlfriend/boyfriend (Cronbach's alpha = .82). Higher scores signify greater social support.

Family responsibility taking. The 10-item Family Responsibility Taking Scale (Field & Yando, 1991) was developed to tap students' feelings of responsibility within the family (Cronbach's alpha = .65). Questions include feelings about doing housework, perceived ability to make mother or father feel better when she or he is "down," and having more family responsibilities than do peers. Responses are made on a 4-point Likert-type scale (ranging from rarely to very often).

Self-Esteem. The Self-Esteem Scale (Field & Yando, 1991) asks students to compare themselves with their peers on 20 descriptors: confident, anxious, happy, fearful, competitive, ambitious, hard-working, good-looking, good in sports, creative, independent, angry, honest, generous, caring, expressive, outgoing, sentimental, good at schoolwork, and moody (Cronbach's alpha = .66). Less, same, and more are the possible responses.

Happiness. Several items from the Background Information Questionnaire were used to assess happiness with friends, family, and self (Cronbach's alpha = .61).

Depression. The 20-item Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D; Radloff, 1977) includes the primary symptoms of depression. Subjects are asked to report on their feelings during the preceding week. Responses are made on a 4-point Likert-type scale (ranging from rarely or none of the time to most or all of the time). Higher scores signify greater depression. The scale has been standardized for high school populations (Radloff, 1991) and has adequate test- retest reliability, internal consistency, and concurrent validity (Schoenbach, Kaplan, Wagner, Grimson, & Miller, 1983; Wells, Klerman, & Deykin, 1987).

Risk-Taking. The Risk-Taking Scale (Field & Yando, 1991) was designed to tap sports-related and danger-related risks (Cronbach's alpha = .69). The sports subscale asks students about their participation in the following activities: rock climbing, water skiing, mountain climbing, scuba diving, sky diving, downhill skiing, wind surfing, horseback jumping, white-water rafting, flying an airplane, parasailing, surf boarding, and long-distance sailing (would never try, would like to try, have tried, sometimes do, or often do). The danger subscale asks students if they would ride a roller coaster, try marijuana, drive over the speed limit, try crack or cocaine, drink alcohol, ride a motorcycle, and hitchhike across the country (alone, only with friends, or never). In addition, students are asked if they would bet a dollar on a 50/50 chance of getting two dollars and whether they would buy a book of lottery tickets.

Drug use. Four items on the Background Information Questionnaire assess smoking and the use of alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine. Answers range from regularly to never, with lower scores signifying more drug use. These questions are asked in the past tense so students, even though anonymous, do not feel incriminated by their answers.

Perceptions about giftedness. The 24-item Perceptions about Giftedness Scale (Field & Yando, 1991) was developed to assess gifted students' perceptions of themselves relative to peers not in the gifted program, as well as their feelings about giftedness. Questions are divided into three subscales. The Self-Perceived Academic Skills sub-scale asks students to compare themselves on 9 items: math/science, spelling/writing, grades in general, organize homework, original, flexible, task-oriented, creative, and open-minded (Cronbach's alpha = .69). Answers range from worse/less to better/more. The Self-Perceived Social Skills subscale also consists of 9 comparison items: get along with teachers, get along with peers, understand people, make friends, make conversation, get along with adults, have close friends, make jokes, and talkative (Cronbach's alpha = .63). Responses include worse/less, same, and better/more. The Unhappy with Giftedness sub-scale consists of 6 true/false items on what it means to be in the gifted class: being rejected by students not in the gifted class, academic pressure, social pressure, other students not understanding giftedness, teachers expecting more because of giftedness, and sometimes wishing not being gifted (Cronbach's alpha = .68).

RESULTS
Chi-square analyses revealed an uneven ethnic distribution. The gifted program had more white non-Hispanics and Asians and fewer blacks and Hispanics. In addition, more parents of gifted children had received a postgraduate education. The groups did not differ, however, on self-perceived SES level.

Analyses of variance were performed to compare the gifted and non-gifted students' responses on the scales. Ethnicity and parental education levels were entered on covariates. Gifted students, as compared with nongifted peers, perceived themselves as being more intimate with best friends, as assuming fewer family responsibilities, and as taking greater risks in sports and dangerous activities (see Table 2).

Consistent with rating themselves as being more intimate with friends, gifted students also indicated on relationship items from the Background Information Questionnaire that they were closer to friends than to family. For example, approximately 62% indicated "friend" in response to the statement, "There is an important person in my life," while an equivalent number of nongifted students indicated "parent and friend" (x2 = 9.0, p < .005). Similarly, when answering the question, "I feel closer to my friends than to my family," 42% of the gifted students responded often or very often as compared with 22% of the nongifted students (x2 = 18.4, p < .001).

Goodness-of-fit chi-square tests were conducted on each of the items on the Perceptions about Giftedness Scale (see Table 3). On all of the perceived academic and social skills items, the gifted students rated themselves as the same as, or better than, their nongifted peers. The distribution of responses was generally equal across "same as peer" and "better than peer" categories. On several items, however, they thought they were superior to their peers, including spelling/writing performance, originality, and creativity, as well as getting along with teachers, getting along with adults, and understanding people.

Independent t tests were used for post hoc comparisons between the responses of gifted students and their teachers on the Self-Perceived Academic Skills, Self-Perceived Social Skills, and the Unhappy with Giftedness subscales. Analyses of academic and social skills yielded no significant differences. However, the teachers' mean score for the Unhappy with Giftedness subscale was significantly higher than that of the students (teacher = 10.7, student = 8.2; t = 5.9, p < .001), indicating that the teachers viewed the gifted students as being less happy than the students viewed themselves.

Table 2

Mean Scores (and Standard Deviations) for Gifted and Nongifted Students

Scale

Gifted (n=62)

Nongifted (n=162)

p

Intimacy-Mother

(range = 8-40)

24.3

(9.9)

25.3

(11.0)

NS

Intimacy-Father

(range = 8-40)

21.2

(9.9)

21.1

(13.2)

NS

Intimacy-Best Friend

(range = 8-40)

32.3

(10.6)

30.2

(6.7)

.05

Social Support

(range = 12-46)

39.8

(5.8)

38.4

(8.5)

NS

Family Responsibilities

(range = 10-40)

18.1

(7.5)

19.9

(4.6)

.01

Overall Happiness

(range = 3-12)

10.5

(4.1)

10.6

(1.5)

NS

Self-Esteem

(range = 20-60)

44.2

(1.4)

44.1

(5.1)

NS

Depression (CES-D)

(range = 0-60)

20.3

(5.0)

21.6

(11.7)

NS

Risk-Taking

Danger-related

(range = 9-27)

17.5

(9.8)

16.3

(3.2)

.05

Sports-related

(range = 13-65)

28.0

(7.9)

25.7

(6.2)

.05

Drug Use

(range = 4-16)

13.8

(2.1)

14.2

(2.1)

NS

DISCUSSION
Demographic differences between the gifted and nongifted students were noted on ethnicity and parental education. The higher percentage of white, non-Hispanic students and lower percentage of black and Hispanic students is a common attribute of gifted programs. This uneven ethnic distribution has been noted in much of the research on gifted students (Masten, 1985). The higher education level of the gifted students' parents was not surprising and may relate to more highly educated parents realizing the importance of superior education and having the resources and resourcefulness to ensure their children's placement in these programs.

Table 3

Distribution of Responses on the Perceptions about Giftedness Scale for Gifted Students and Their Teachers

Perceived Academic Skills

Student Responses

Teacher Responses

Worse

Same

Better

x2

Worse

Same

Better

Math/Science performance

6%

46%

48%

14.9**

25%

-

75%

Spelling/Writing performance

11%

33%

56%

14.4**

25%

-

75%

General grades performance

6%

46%

48%

14.9**

25%

-

75%

Organize homework

30%

46%

24%

3.4

50%

50%

-

Less

Same

More

Less

Same

More

Original

4%

38%

58%

19.6**

-

-

100%

Flexible

5%

44%

51%

17.2**

25%

50%

25%

Task-oriented

22%

53%

25%

8.1*

-

25%

75%

Creative

4%

36%

60%

20.9**

-

25%

75%

Open-minded

2%

33%

65%

26.9**

-

-

100%

Perceived Social Skills

Student Responses

Teacher Responses

Worse

Same

Better

x2

Worse

Same

Better

Get along with teachers

2%

37%

61%

24.0**

-

50%

50%

Get along with peers

6%

46%

48%

14.9**

-

50%

50%

Understand people

-

33%

67%

5.6*

-

-

100%

Make friends

9%

63%

28%

20.9**

25%

50%

25%

Make conversation

11%

63%

26%

19.9**

-

50%

50%

Get along with adults

4%

31%

65%

25.7**

-

25%

75%

Have close friends

4%

61%

35%

22.1**

-

75%

25%

Make jokes

18%

53%

29%

8.9*

-

25%

75%

Less

Same

More

Less

Same

More

Talkative

11%

47%

42%

10.1*

-

50%

50%

Unhappy with Giftedness

Student Responses

Teacher Responses

Being in the gifted program means:

True

False

x2

True

False

Being rejected by nongifted peers

18%

82%

18.7**

25%

75%

Academic pressure

62%

38%

2.7

100%

-

Social pressure

24%

76%

11.8**

67%

33%

Other kids my age don't understand giftedness

40%

60%

1.8

67%

33%

Teachers expect more of me because of my giftedness

58%

42%

1.1

100%

-

Sometimes I wish I wasn't gifted

16%

84%

23.4**

100%

-

*p<.05

**p<.01

Greater intimacy with friends and less family responsibility-taking may reflect precocious social development. As children, these gifted students would likely have had more developed cognitive and verbal abilities, which might, in turn, have led to an earlier psychological separation from parents and increased intimacy with peers. As increased association with peers and separation from parents occurs, adolescents may experience greater pressure to take risks (Irwin & Millstein, 1986), as evidenced in this gifted sample's higher perceived risk-taking.

Relative to their nongifted peers, the gifted students felt they had average or above average self-esteem. Their superior academic self-image (and their teachers' agreement on this factor) would be expected. Surprisingly, however, they also reported having the same or better social skills. This finding is contrary to reports of less social competence in gifted students (Kerr et al., 1988; Ross & Parker, 1980). Gifted students in the present study may simply have been more accepted (even valued) by their peers than were those in earlier studies. The gifted students' responses on the Unhappy with Giftedness subscale were not negative even though their teachers thought they were less happy than they themselves indicated. Future research should examine this question, as well as the possibility that social attitudes among gifted students and their peers are changing.

The authors would like to thank the students and teachers who participated in this study. This research was supported by an NIMH Research Scientist Award (#MH00331) and an NIMH Research Grant (#MH40779) to Tiffany Field.

Jeff Harding, B.A., Ketty Gonzalez, M.S., David Lasko, M.S., and Carol Marks, M.S., Touch Research Institute, University of Miami School of Medicine.

Regina Yando, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School.

Debra Bendell, Ph.D., Fremont Kaiser Permanente.

Reprint requests to Tiffany Field, Ph.D., Touch Research Institute, University of Miami School of Medicine, P.O. Box 016820, Miami, Florida 33101.

References

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Scholwinski, E., & Reynolds, C. (1985). Dimensions of anxiety among high-IQ children. Gifted Child Quarterly, 29, 125-130.

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