Psychological research studies, especially longitudinal, are instrumental for understanding GT kids -their strengths, weaknesses, and personality characteristics. They teach us how we can better educate them, and help us to understand why GT education is so important for GT students.
There have been various longitudinal studies conducted with GT students as subjects. For example, in the US, the most famous are the 90+-year Terman study and the 50-year Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth, or SMPY study. In Australia, Miraca Gross conducted a 20-year study of GT children.
These studies selected one or more cohorts of students through IQ examinations, conducted initial surveys of their personalities, educational progress, home life, activities, and interests, and followed up with them on a regular basis.
The results provide some of the most cited data in the field of psychology, and reveal some intriguing findings about GT kids!
GT students have mastered the school curriculum two full grades beyond their enrolled grade
In Terman’s study, the average GT child’s educational age was 44 percent above his chronological age (Terman and Oden, 1947). This means that the average GT child’s school knowledge was on a par with that of a strictly average child whose age was 44 percent greater.
For a ten-year-old this would be equal to four years, or four full school grades!!
When a GT student’s knowledge is equal to children several grades ahead of them, they are effectively being held back, harming their achievement and motivation to learn.
And these findings still hold true today. According to a US Department of Education study, GT elementary school students have already mastered 35 – 50% of the material for 5 core subjects before they even begin the school year! (O’Connell et al., 1993).
GT students have significantly different personality traits
GT children, when looking at various personality measures, are significantly different to their average- ability peers.
In terms of the Big 5 Personality Traits, multiple studies agree that GT children have been found to have higher openness to experience than average ability children (Ogurlu & Özbey, 2021). Some studies have also found that they have lower neuroticism (Kim and Ahn, 2004, and Zeidner and Shani-Zinovich, 2011).
This effectively means that GT children are more confident and stable. They are less threatened and distressed by the world, and instead are curious about it. They are interested in other people, and eager to learn and have new experiences.
In the SMPY study, Mills (1993) found that GT youth were also significantly different from average ability youth on all four dimensions of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Scores on the MBTI have been shown to be related to academic ability and achievement (Myers, 1962; Mills, 1983b, 1984).
GT children are twice as likely to describe themselves as introverted compared to the general population (Figure 1). Introversion has been shown to be correlated with academic ability and educational achievement. GT children also express a preference for intuition (over sensing), and thinking (over feeling).
In terms of combinations of the four dimensions, GT students were over three times as likely to be IN’s (40%) compared to the average population. This is significant because in a typical classroom only 9% of students have this combination of preferences (Mills, 1993).
From “Personality, Learning Style and Cognitive Style Profiles of Mathematically Talented Students” by Carol J. Mills, 1993, European Journal of High Ability, 4(1), pg. 70-85.
GT students become very highly educated
An astounding 69.8% of the men and 66.5% of the women in Terman’s study had earned a bachelor’s degree by their mid-30s, compared to 8% of the general population at the time. Even compared to modern completion rates, this is impressive- in 2021, only 39% of Americans aged 25-29 had completed a bachelor’s degree (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2021, Table 104.20).
Not only that, but the rate of doctorate degree completion for GT students is multiples that of average-ability students.
The SMPY study conducted 20-year follow-up studies of the adolescents identified at age 12. The studies revealed that while 30% of participants with SAT-M or SAT-V scores of 500 (~ top 0.5%) secured doctorates, for those students who scored 700 or above (the top 0.1%) that rate rose to 50%! (Benbow, Lubinski, Shea, & Eftekhari-Sanjani, 2000; Lubinski, Benbow, Webb, & BleskeRechek, 2006). Meanwhile, the base rate for earning a doctorate (i.e., J.D., M.D., or Ph.D.) in the United States is only 1%.
It is worth noting however that GT kids will not necessarily become highly educated without access to a strong educational foundation and family support. The children in Terman’s study, for example, came disproportionately from upper middle class families with professional fathers. Although they were not considered wealthy, the average income of the families of the students in the study was well above the nationwide mean for 1925 (Jolly, 2008). This could mean the students had a stronger educational foundation than the norm (better school districts, smaller class sizes and/or higher chances of individualized instruction or acceleration).
In addition, at least one fourth of the gifted students in Terman’s study had a parent who had graduated from college (Terman, 1925). Although there would be a genetic link to explain the higher rates of parental education, it is also likely that the students in Terman’s study had access to strong parental support for their education.
GT students with higher internal motivation and persistence achieve more academically and have better career outcomes
Intellect is not always positively correlated with motivation. Even amongst GT students, there are some with higher internal motivation and more persistence to achieve academically and in their careers.
In a 40-year follow up of 100 men in the Terman study, Melita Oden (1968) found that GT kids who, at 11 years old, showed greater will power, perseverance and desire to excel than other GT kids went on to be more successful in academics and their careers, being found in professions like law or medicine, or were business executives or university professors. T
Those GT kids who showed less motivation and persistence were often later found in occupations that were deemed to be far below their intellectual capabilities.
GT kids involved in extracurricular activities and sports have higher achievement and better career outcomes
Melita Oden’s study of male Terman subjects (1968) also revealed that subjects who were more highly involved in extracurricular activities in school and played sports throughout their lives were those who were more likely to have been successful in their careers.
This conclusion is corroborated by the SMPY study. Lubinski et al. (2001) found that, compared to other GT students, graduate students who were admitted to the top math and science universities had participated more frequently in math and science competitions and activities before college.
Other researchers theorize that the reason for this connection is that participation in competitions provides GT students with opportunities to meet with and compare themselves with other GT students, giving them social support and a more realistic picture of their abilities (Subotnik, Miserandino, and Olszewski – Kubilius, 1996).
GT students who have access to accelerated education:
Attend more prestigious universities, have better college grades and are more likely to attain graduate degrees
Multiple longitudinal studies of GT kids confirm that those who have access to accelerated education attain better educational outcomes than those who are not given access to accelerated education.
In Miraca Gross’ Australian study, GT students who were accelerated by 2 or more years were more likely to have studied research degrees at leading universities. In contrast, those in the study who were accelerated 1 year or not accelerated at all were more likely to have entered less academically rigorous institutions, or even to not have graduated from high school or college (Gross, 2006).
In a meta-analysis of 38 studies on GT children conducted between 1984 and 2008, Steenbergen-Hu and Moon (2010) found that GT students who are accelerated tend to outperform students who are not accelerated in their performance on standardized achievement tests, college grades, degrees obtained, and the status of universities or colleges attended.
Are more likely to choose STEM careers
Studies published on the SMPY data reveal that GT students who were grade-based accelerated, or grade skipped were more likely to earn graduate degrees in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields and to secure important career accomplishments related to success in STEM careers, such as STEM publications and patents (Park, Lubiniski, Benbow, 2013).
Achieve higher incomes and greater career success over their lifetime
In Terman’s study, after controlling for education attainment, male GT students who had skipped a grade earned an average of 9.35% more annually than non-grade skipping men (Warne and Liu, 2017).
Through analyzing five US federal government datasets, Warne (2017) found that on average, accelerated individuals had incomes 4.66% higher than non-accelerated individuals. The difference was more marked for accelerated women, who on average earned 6.78% more. Warne writes that “a conservative estimate is that there is a $72,000 lifetime earnings difference between accelerated and non-accelerated subjects”!
Feel greater satisfaction with school and life
In both the SMPY and Australian longitudinal studies, GT students who were given accelerated education reported great satisfaction with their educational programs.
For example, in a survey of cohort 3 of the SMPY study (Figure 2), over 70% of GT students said that they were satisfied with their accelerated program. However, among those who were not satisfied, over half were not satisfied because they wished they had been accelerated more! (Wai, 2015)
From “Top 1 in 10,000: A 10-year follow-up of the profoundly gifted” by D. Lubinski, R.M. Webb, M.J. Morelock, & C.P. Benbow, 2001, Journal of Applied Psychology 86, pg 718-729.
In Miraca Gross’ Australian study, not only did participants who were accelerated report more satisfaction with their education than those who were not accelerated, they also reported higher life satisfaction! (Miraca, 2006).
Implications for GT Education
The most obvious implication of these findings is that accelerated learning is absolutely crucial for GT kids.
Not only do their educational outcomes improve with acceleration, but their life outcomes as well!
Compared to average-ability students, GT students have both the intellectual capability and personality traits (more tendency towards openness, confidence, introversion, and intuition) to embrace a challenging educational program.
Accelerated education meets both the needs and aspirations of GT students. Education, even without acceleration, is clearly important to all GT students, based on their college and graduate degree completion rates. And those that have been accelerated achieve even more educational success and report higher satisfaction with their education.
Longitudinal studies on GT kids also indicate that their motivation, persistence and involvement in extracurricular activities can have a large impact on how much they are able to achieve. At gt.school, we are putting these findings into practice.
We use ambitious goal setting to help students unlock their internal motivation.
We teach life skills such as Daily Habits to help students develop persistence and dedication in their learning.
And our gt.school communities encourage students to connect with other students over the extracurricular activities that they are passionate about.
We believe strongly in personalized accelerated education for GT students. Without a doubt, the research shows that this works!