Most children who turn out to be prodigies at an early age are usually raised to know exactly what they want, and thus end up following careers in domains pertaining to exact or applied sciences. When they are asked why they have chosen such areas of expertise, they seldom know what to answer, and a new scientific study comes to prove that the choices they make are actually dictated by other people, including parents and teachers, and that their free will plays a minor part in the selection.
“Society identifies the gifted child with high intelligence and is often hasty to identify this intelligence with specific subjects, especially exact or prestigious sciences. The maturing children are quick to adopt this identity, renouncing the process of building self-identity,” University of Haifa researcher Dr. Inbal Shani, the scientist who has led the new study under the supervision of Prof. Moshe Zeidner, explains. More than 800 high-school students, both gifted and non-gifted, have been surveyed.
The two groups have had their levels of self-concept assessed and analyzed, as well as other variables of their psychologies. The goal of the researchers has been to observe how gifted teens grow up, and how their individual identities are formed in the process. Some of the results of the investigation have not been exactly pleasing for the young prodigies. They showed that, while they had high levels of self-esteem in relation to their professional achievements, they suffered from low esteem when it came to their physical appearance and their social skills.
“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 (...), which is of much significance in the process of self-exploration,” Shani says.
“It is a paradox: 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,” the researcher adds. The team shares that labeling a child as a genius when he or she is still very young can have serious consequences later in adolescence, as he or she will bear this type of “description” throughout school, where kids can be very cruel to them. Hence the social problems they're reporting.