Posted on September 21, 2020

The (Gifted) Kids Are All Right

Susan Pinker, Wall Street Journal, September 17, 2020


It’s widely thought that being identified as different or skipping ahead academically at a young age comes at a social cost. “There is the belief that individuals who are academically talented are emotionally vulnerable, and changes in routine such as grade-skipping will trigger that vulnerability,” says Frank Worrall, director of the school psychology program at the University of California, Berkeley. {snip} In this view, it’s better for gifted children to stay in class with their age-mates instead of being bumped up a grade or challenged by an advanced curriculum.

But the idea that intellectual prowess makes young people vulnerable snowflakes is a myth, according to fresh data collected and analyzed by David Lubinski and Camila Benbow, professors of psychology and education at Vanderbilt, who have followed the lives of gifted kids for decades. In a study published last month in the Journal of Educational Psychology, the two professors, along with doctoral student Brian Bernstein, followed over 1,600 highly gifted American teenagers who were identified in the 1970s and ‘80s as among the top 1% in their age group in math and verbal abilities. These students were selected for advanced educational opportunities before they graduated from high school. Did early acceleration interfere with their happiness in the long term?

To answer that question, the researchers looked at how these students are doing at age 50. Using several standardized tests, the team found that there was no relationship between an accelerated academic program—such as being targeted for an enrichment program, skipping a grade, entering college early or taking an outsize number of AP courses in high school—and the students’ ultimate psychological balance.