What words come to mind attached to the term “gifted?” Smart, nerdy, weird, antisocial, sensitive, etc.? What most people don’t understand is that being gifted doesn’t have anything to do with academics, although a gifted personality will look different than an average one in an educational environment. Some traits of gifted personalities include asynchronous development, high personal expectations, diverse interests, and a “quirky” sense of humor. Let’s unpack these traits one by one. 

What Are the Defining Traits of the Gifted Personality?

Asynchronous Development

This term is used when describing gifted children particularly in a classroom environment. While in school, gifted children may develop their skills unevenly, meaning they may excel in literature, but do poorly in math class. In fact, evidence shows that those who develop asynchronously actually have a higher level of intelligence. Those who have this personality trait have a very specific learning style, and as gifted children have a more unique way of perceiving the world around them, they require a very specialized learning program. They learn differently than most children. 

So, while many parents, educators, and peers may see these children as lazy or behind, it is actually the contrary; being gifted does not always mean excelling at every subject. It means a different style of learning that is not black and white, and one learning style does not fit every subject. Gifted students may need an IEP, or Individualized Education Program.

Two little girls coloring.
Gifted children struggle to get along with others, and often end up doing things alone. Image courtesy: Unsplash.

High Personal Expectations

Society puts a lot of pressure on gifted individuals, especially when it comes to academics. Due to these pressures, children may internalize the expectations put forth by society. A gifted child may be hard on themselves and may expect themselves to excel at every subject, because parents, teachers, and peers do not fully understand what it means to be gifted and will expect that from the children. The children will trust the adults in their life to tell them the truth about their personality, meaning they will not question it and therefore will believe that there is something internally wrong with them rather than considering the source. 

Diverse Interests and Openness to Experience

Diverse interests and openness to experience are key identifying traits when it comes to gifted personalities. It means that the gifted person considers multiple perspectives, multiple ideas. They do not stick to one ideal, or one interest, they explore. Because of this, they understand complex situations and have the ability to problem solve using multiple possibilities. In simple terms, they think outside the box. 

This translates to having diverse interests and talents, because they do not simply stick to what they know, and enjoy exploring other possibilities. This is also called multipotentiality. While having many talents may not seem like a curse, many gifted people do not like the fact that they have to “turn down” a skill, such as choosing to play the violin instead of soccer. Again, it’s not that gifted children are the best at everything, but they want to do everything, and have a hard time choosing just one activity. 

A “Quirky” Sense of Humor

Because gifted personalities are highly intelligent and have many interests, they are also extremely witty. Many gifted children will be quick to respond to a joke or simply come up with something sarcastic but well thought out. Their jokes will not be your average knock knock joke, it will be something that could only come from the quick, intelligent, and witty gifted personality, a joke that may go over most people’s heads. Gifted students may also be disruptive in a classroom environment. When a gifted student gets bored of a subject, they may become the disruptive class clown and use humor to entertain themselves or their classmates. 

Because gifted people are highly intelligent, we must remember that there are nine intelligences, each with the same value in life. Some people may be highly emotionally intelligent, but not logically intelligent. Each one must be considered when talking about gifted people versus “average” people, because everyone has their own intelligence and one is not “better” than the other. The theory of multiple intelligences was proposed by Howard Gardner in the 1980s, and is still a vital part of explaining the human experience today.

A visual diagram of the nine intelligences.
There are actually nine types of intelligences, so if you do not excel in one area, you are probably suited for a different area of intelligence. Image courtesy of Psychology Spot.

The Nine Intelligences

  1. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence – These individuals are often good with numbers and mathematics, they can recognize patterns and are very analytic, relying on their logic to solve problems.
  2. Visual-Spatial Intelligence –  People who are visually intelligent are creative and imaginative. They enjoy visual arts and activities like puzzles, drawing, or painting. They also enjoy looking at maps and pictures.
  3. Musical Intelligence – These individuals are musically inclined, and probably play an instrument. They can recognize rhythms, lyrics, and sounds very easily, and are probably very good at playing or writing music. 
  4. Interpersonal Intelligence – Those with interpersonal intelligence are very sociable, and they can easily interact with others. They can pick up on nonverbal cues, and enjoy interacting with people, even if they do not know them. They can sense people’s emotions and intentions easily.
  5. Intrapersonal Intelligence – People who have intrapersonal skills are usually very in tune with their own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and motivations. They enjoy spending time with themselves, and are naturally self-aware. They are often able to spend time alone just writing, thinking, reading, etc. 
  6. Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence  – These individuals have excellent motor skills and are often good at things like gymnastics, dance, or sports. They have great coordination, stability, and control over their body movements. 
  7. Linguistic-Verbal Intelligence – Those who are linguistically intelligent have a strong affinity for communication, writing, and reading. Perhaps they even study a foreign language. These individuals are often good at writing and speaking, and have a great understanding of the technical aspect of writing. They may be great at memorizing information and giving speeches. 
  8. Naturalistic Intelligence – Naturalistic intelligence was not in the original group, but has since become an important one. People with this intelligence are very in tune with nature and their environment. They may have an affinity for studying nature, including flora and fauna, and learning more about the world around them. These people enjoy spending time outside and may be great campers or hikers.
  9. Existential Intelligence – This ninth intelligence was added to the list in 1999 after further consideration by Gardner. A person with existential intelligence has an open mind, and has a “big picture” view of the world. They consider things like the meaning of life and what happens after we die. They have a larger perspective on the world and consider multiple viewpoints, such as the teachings of the Buddha and philosophy. 

What Do the Nine Intelligences Have to Do With Giftedness?

The theory of multiple intelligences is used as a blueprint for gifted education. Giftedness is based on intelligence, of which there are nine. According to Gardner, students in school must be taught about these intelligences, and given the opportunity to nurture and explore their intelligence, whether it’s one or several. Gifted students often need a specialized education program due to their intelligence level, and using the theory of intelligence should be a major part of that curriculum. “MI gives the framework with broad implications for the identification and education of gifted students,” (UNI ScholarWorks).

Three men talking around a desk at their office.
Giftedness can look a lot different in the office versus a classroom. Image courtesy: Unsplash.

Giftedness in Adulthood

Most people hear the word gifted and think of children in a classroom. A gifted personality, however, doesn’t go away after school. It does carry into adulthood, it just looks a bit different and isn’t as easy to recognize. Many adults who are gifted are aware of their intelligence and how it differs from their colleagues. This can cause issues working with others such as not being able to slow their pace down to a normal level, or defying authority and getting in trouble, even if their method was probably more efficient. 

When it comes to the workplace, gifted adults often have trouble adapting because they can feel out of place, or like they don’t fit in. Gifted people in the workplace may not be able to perform their duties as the average employee would, and as a result they feel frustrated. These people are capable of many things, and some employers are able to recognize that and give them specific duties to perform in order to have them perform at their best. In fact, many of these can be mistaken for adult ADHD. While there is research yet to be performed, there are a plethora of research-based factors and traits that have been identified. 

Being gifted can be both a blessing and a curse, it all depends on how much one understands the gifted personality. Taking the steps to recognize that there are multiple intelligences will help people understand that there is no one size fits all education plan or workplace, and that gifted personalities just need more understanding and support.

Oct 7, 2022