Dr. Inbal Shani: “It is the gifted – who are often multi-talented – who tend to limit the realization of those very talents into specific fields.”

Gifted children may be multitalented, but they often tend to limit themselves to applied sciences, according to a new study at the University of Haifa in Israel.

From an early age, gifted children already know what they want to be when they grow up, according to the research. Most tend to pick careers in prestigious sciences and shun activities such as traveling, which might broaden their social horizons.

“Maturing gifted students know from a very young age what their life’s course will be – usually in the applied sciences. Most of them demonstrate neither deliberation nor interest in other fields, and they speak of studying in academic or military-academic tracks; almost none speak of traveling after serving in the army, for example, which is of much significance in the process of self-exploration,” says Dr. Inbal Shani of the University of Haifa, who carried out this study under the supervision of Prof. Moshe Zeidner.

Shani’s study surveyed 800 gifted and non-gifted high school students in Israel and examined the differences in self-concept and other psychological variables between the two groups.

Low self-esteem in social skills

The results showed that while gifted youngsters have higher self-esteem in their educational achievements, they have lower self-esteem in their social and physical skills. In addition, many gifted children reported social difficulties and the feeling that other children keep distant from them because they are gifted.

Shani points out that the problems begin almost as soon as a child is identified as gifted, and entered into special educational programs. Expectations are high, and the child, who feels they excel in academia, strives to meet program demands. It’s a problem that is especially prominent in children who take part in daily programs.

“Society identifies the gifted child with high intelligence and is often hasty to identify this intelligence with specific subjects, especially exact or prestigious sciences,” says Shani. “The maturing children are quick to adopt this identity, renouncing the process of building self-identity.

“It is a paradox,” she adds. “It is the gifted – who are often multi-talented – who tend to limit the realization of those very talents into specific fields. Instead of selecting from many options open to them, they limit themselves to applied or prestigious subjects,” she explains.

In the wake of her study, Shani says she believes it is essential to give gifted children an opportunity to relate to emotional and social characteristics, such as motivation, self-concept and external pressures, and not just to characteristics that relate to cognitive aptitude.