New Worlds: 'Society shapes and directs gifted children'

Haifa study finds children identified in IQ tests as "gifted" are different from others in the way they think of themselves and the way society affects them.

Cute school kid 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Cute school kid 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Children identified in IQ tests as "gifted" are different from others, not in what they know but also in the way they think of themselves and the way society affects them. A new study at the University of Haifa sheds light on the "gifted paradox" - the fact that such children "shape their personalities according to social stigma." Dr. Inbal Shani, who carried out the study under the supervision of Prof. Moshe Zeidner, found that gifted children know from a young age what they want to be when they grow up; don't think about taking a year off to travel after serving in the army; and usually choose to study applied sciences - but they can't explain why they make those choices. "Society identifies the gifted child 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 building of self-identity," says Shani. The study surveyed 800 "gifted" and "non-gifted" high-school pupils and examined the differences in self-perception and other psychological variables. The study also observed the ways in which maturing gifted students form their identity. The results showed that while gifted youths have higher self-esteem in their educational achievements, they have lower self-esteem in social and physical areas. The researchers pointed out that as soon as pupils are defined as gifted, they are put into special educational programs. This process causes them to feel that they excel in the academic field, causing them to strive to meet the expectations set for them. This is particularly prominent in those classes that participate in intensive daily programs fostering gifted children. "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 speak of studying in academic or military-academic tracks." The Haifa researcher adds that the applied science tracks are probably adjusted for the maturing gifted, and that many of these youths would have chosen them regardless of the social labeling; but the problem is that they tend to choose their professional identity based on the social expectations. "It is a paradox: It is the gifted who are often multitalented - who tend to limit the realization of those very talents. Instead of selecting from many options open to them, they limit themselves to applied or prestigious subjects," she points out. She found that gifted youths frequently have social difficulties, and the feeling that other children keep distant from them because of the label, and therefore it is important to enable them to relate to emotional and social characteristics such as motivation, self-perception and external pressures, and not only to those characteristics related to cognitive aptitude. VIOLENT MOVIES AND VIDEO GAMES REDUCE EMPATHY Playing violent video games and watching violent movies can make people numb to the suffering of others, according to US researchers interviewed by UPI. Prof. Brad Bushman of the University of Michigan and Iowa State University Prof. Craig Anderson. The two demonstrated that exposure to violent media produces physiological desensitization - lowering heart rate and skin conductance - when viewing scenes of actual violence. In one study, 320 college students played either a violent or a nonviolent video game for 20 minutes. Soon after, they overheard a staged fight that ended with the "victim" sustaining a sprained ankle and groaning in pain. The study, to be published in the March issue of Psychological Science, said people who had played a violent game took significantly longer (73 seconds) to help the victim than those who played a nonviolent game (16 seconds). A second study involved 162 adult moviegoers and a woman with a bandaged ankle and crutches, who "accidentally" dropped her crutches and struggled to retrieve them. Participants who had just watched a violent movie took over 26 percent longer to help than people who had just watched a nonviolent movie. Meanwhile, researchers in Taiwan have found that Internet-addicted teens are more prone to aggression than other adolescents. However, Americans who study violence are not ready to make any conclusions about a possible link. Internet addiction itself remains a controversial topic more than a decade after it was first described. Some mental health specialists refuse to recognize its existence, although a number of rehabilitation centers treat people who say they suffer from it.