Characteristics of the Gifted

I received my Mensa Research Journal in the mail yesterday, and found some of the material so interesting that I decided to suspend my writing about the psyche for a day and blog about intelligence, instead.

This issue is about high intelligence (giftedness) in the workplace. I found one article, “Gifted Adults in Work,” by Noks Nauta and Frans Corten, especially interesting. The abstract begins, “gifted adults ( people with a very high intelligence; 2% of the population) sometimes are not able to function adequately at work” (49). Ironic, isn’t it, that the most intelligent among us may function inadequately at work, in school, or in other settings? Why is that?

Gifted people share certain characteristics that can make adapting difficult when adapting means thinking, acting, or feeling within normal limits. Several articles mentioned that people with very high IQs are often mis-diagnosed as having ADHD or autism!

Some of the shared characteristics of the gifted are:

  • Speed of thinking. Gifted individuals think more quickly than others. They make many mental switches, associate rapidly, and give the impression that they jump from one subject to the next.
  • High sensitivity.People with high intelligence are also more sensitive in various areas, such as psychomotoric, sensorial, intellectual, imaginative, and emotional. They are sometimes confused with people who have ADHD.
  • Introversion.The inner world of the gifted is very well-developed. They are quickly and easily hurt, and so tend to keep others at a distance. Some avoid parties and other social gatherings because the topics of conversation bore them or because they have been rejected for being “different” in the past. People with high IQs also have trouble finding others who are like them, which can lead them to become even more isolated.
  • Emotional development.Many gifted individuals feel emotions strongly; but because their thinking ability is dominant and provides safety, their emotional development may lag behind. They may have trouble linking feelings and reason. This may be reinforced when the child’s giftedness is not recognized from an early age, and when it is mistaken for autism or other developmental problems.
  • Creativity. Gifted people are more global by nature and have strong capacities for imagination. People of average intelligence can’t follow the train of thought of the gifted. Gifted individuals can also identify patterns quickly and thus predict trends. They may draw conclusions intuitively or make what appear to be quick or premature judgments. Their creativity is often frustrated by the regular education system or the typical work place.
  • Independence. Gifted people make judgments and form opinions autonomously. They are non-conformist and therefore display “inappropriate behavior” in the classroom or work place. They often have an aversion to non-democratic authority.
  • Perfectionism. Perfectionism is often accompanied by having too high expectations of others, but also with shame, guilt feelings, and feelings of inferiority through not being able to meet their own high expectations.
  • Learning style. Many gifted people have exploratory learning styles. They look for what isn’t there, and are often bored by rote learning methods. As a result, they may never develop learning strategies.
  • Fear of failure and under-performing.If their intelligence is not stimulated, children often develop bad working habits. They sometimes think that they are stupid, become afraid of failure, and start under-performing. Their motivation to learn decreases.

Gifted people tend to be interested in and good at many different things. A gifted child may want to become involved in new activities quickly, and then over-commit himself. This may continue into adulthood, making the gifted adult a “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

I found this list of characteristics of the gifted interesting, because they are all too familiar. I think that being able to see layer upon layer of meaning in a situation or relationship can be particularly painful to the person with high intelligence, because often these layers are missed by the average person. This hyper-sensitivity can be crippling and can, I think, cause those with high intelligence to teeter on the edge of neurosis if they aren’t helped to see that they do, in fact, see and experience life differently than the average person. A 10-year-old able to think, read, and comprehend at the high school level, but still emotionally and developmentally every bit the 10-year-old is going to have problems in 5th grade. This is a fact of life that the parents of the gifted child really ought to pay attention to rather than pretending it isn’t there, or expecting the child to work it out on his or her own.

strategies for the gifted

The authors write that gifted people use various strategies to cope with their oddness. They may choose to be inconspicuous, keeping a low profile and restricting personal development because they’re not aware of their high intelligence, or don’t care to do the work that will lead to being accepted or better adjusted. (What’s the value of being well adjusted? If you can’t explain it to your gifted child in dollars and cents, he just may decide to forego “getting along” becaues it doesn’t make sense.)

Others may have grown up knowing they were intelligent, accepted it, and developed the social skills to get along with others. Many who adapt do so because they are able to work or learn in a gifted environment. Still others move on from acceptance to being primarily social, functioning well in multi-disciplinary jobs where high intelligence and good social skills are needed (many more highly intelligent people work in the humanities, for example).

Others with high intelligence get stuck using confrontational or isolationist strategies and manage to make lifestyles of arguing with and confronting others in the environment, or of isolating themselves. While this may keep them feeling lively for awhile, it can also be isolating and lead to job terminations, setting the individual up for a long string of losses. I have had a couple of sons who began to develop this pattern in school, and I showed them how getting along with the teacher, even if he was wrong, would earn a better grade than showing the class what a fool the instructor was. Earn the grade first, I told them; educate the teacher afterward. This is a strategy that has worked for them, for the most part, and improved their GPAs. I will add, though, that some fools who are also professors can’t be gotten by, and the high-IQ student may just have to take a few bad grades. “Suck it up,” I tell them, “but don’t compromise your values.”


Another article in the journal showed what sorts of professions the gifted tend to choose by surveying groups of gifted and non-gifted adults. I was surprised to learn that 45.6% of gifted people surveyed worked in the humanities, while only 17.8% of those with average intelligence did, and that only 22% of the gifted worked in science and technology, while almost 26% of people with average intelligence did. A similar proportion of gifted and non-gifted worked in the natural sciences.

Perhaps most surprising was that only 11% of gifted people chose economic or legal professions, while almost 27% of the non-gifted went into economics or law. This must explain why it’s so difficult to find a good attorney, why smart people often have to do the work their attorneys ought to be doing, and why the economy is in so much trouble.

Finally, no gifted people in the study group chose artistic professions, whereas 4.4% of the non-gifted did. I found this particularly interesting, since in our local Mensa group there are several artists; but not one of them chose art as a primary career. All of them had one or two careers before retiring, and only turned to art after they had retired comfortably. This goes along with what other researchers have found, which is that people who are intelligent and will act on their intelligence also tend to be practical. They will choose certain safety over behaviors have questionable outcomes. My friends who became artists late in life all have that in common. They assumed when they were younger and raising children that their art could not support them, so they waited until they were past retirement age to throw themselves into their art.


I should note that the study group used in the article about professions was small, and I do not think representative of the general population. I’m sure that there are probably quite a few artists, attorneys, and judges out there with IQs higher than 100. ;)

78 responses

  1. Well good day to you all. I was wondering for a long time whether I just have a normal, above average, or superior iq. Well here are the details:

    First, when I was a little boy (about 3 years old and above), I will get these episodes wherein I was so focused at certain scenes that I manage to ignore everything else that are happening. I was able to be accelerated to prep school so I did not go to kindergarten. Being small and too young to defend myself, I was sometimes bullied there although some of my classmates back then were actually decent people.

    After that, I graduated to elementary, transferred to a new school, and was faced with whole new difficulties. One of my teachers was scolding me for not doing all of my handwork. I used to rely on my parents for my homework since I was too young to it by myself but I was forced to adapt. Fortunately I managed to overcome my challenges.

    During my early elementary days, I tend to play with my classmates. I was not really the isolated type though I did not have any close friends. Just acquaintances. I also managed to get awards for just being academically excellent in a few subjects ( not that impressive huh ). My usual pastime at home were reading books. Particularly science and dinosaur books.

    It was not that hard academically to keep up though I did get a few scuffles with math. The problems came around grade 4. There were a bunch of new classmates around and there are some of them that I do not really like that much. Parts of their personalities were somewhat distasteful.

    I almost forgot to mention that I was really sensitive as a child. I cried for the simplest things. Even now I am still a little sensitive though I managed to control my sensitivities. I was also somewhat perfectionistic. There was this one time during first grade that I cried for not answering a question correctly.

    Continuing on, I noticed that my self-esteem was low at that time. Not that helpful when you are so sensitive. Worse, my parents divorced during my fifth grade. I started to become lazy with my studies and lose motivation. Got only two close friends while there are ongoing civil wars in the class. I was confused with all of these BS and I cannot do anything about them. I also started to get sick a lot more.

    I was also not doing my projects and letting just other people do them. Believe me, I have a principle of doing things on my own. But since I was lacking confidence in myself, perfectionistic, lazy, and was slow, I just let someone do them.

    I manage to graduate to high school despite my setbacks but during that time I was also bullied. Bullied more than I can possibly hope. I manage to find a group of friends who were also social outcasts. Academics were way better back then though and I did manage to get awards again.

    About 4th year high school, I started to become more expressive and aware of the things happening around me. I managed to bring back curiosity and a little intelligence to myself. I began to notice how selfish people can be and how wrong they can be at times. I tried a few times to correct them but do not get positive results since most of the time the way I speak can be hurtful to others.

    I am currently going to take my second year in my B.S. Biology and I am somewhat at ease right now. Learning that not everything will go your way no matter how much you try to deduce possible outcomes in certain events. Also, you learn to accept humans the way they are even though I somewhat find that difficult at times. I can also be socially inept. There are times that I am so nervous that I utter wrong responses in conversations.

    I am about ninety percent sure that I have a mental disorder. Probably cyclothymia ( I’m no expert at these topics ) since I get episodes of being moderately depressed and ( in worse episodes ) thinking about suicide. There are also periods wherein I am overly happy and periods wherein I am just normal. I also tend to daydream too much on occasions. Sometimes I can control it but there are times that my brain is in overdrive.

    What do you guys think? Anyway, thank you for reading this and sorry for such a long comment.

  2. Hello I read the post and one of your comments in which you said “we’re all, after all, same”
    I have been fighting through the same things as you mentioned in your article and since the last few months I started feeling that I have developed ADHD.
    I graduated out of medical school as I am passionate about medicine .I was always among top scorers before medical school but while at med school , a lot of other things started attracting me.
    I somehow managed med school while faking social skills and keeping calm.I could never have friends who were like me – not concerned about results and just interested in learning.
    After the med school got over, I felt at peace as I could be at home and read or travel or play music .I am an INTP.As you said oversensitivity towards people makes me avoid them and lately some issues in my family and suffering have affected Me a lot.
    My thinking process just goes round and round and it is very difficult for Me to study for an exam.
    In my country we have a sepearte exam for specialization.I have been studying for past one year for that and with so many things going on in my Mind , I am afraid I’ll become insane soon.
    It is hard for me to do selective reading.lack of results takes heavy toll on my self esteem.I have high expectations from myself and I feel guilty of disappointing my parents.
    There are selected two three people I talk to.
    At younger age, I could cope with it in a better way .I never felt the anxiety to perform then.I used to sing, play musical instruments, write poetry, read a lot and score well academically too.
    I was a happy jolly kid then.
    I wish I could go back to being that way and not having to perform.
    This stretch with lack of results has made me doubt myself and my abilities.I detest going to pubs and drink and hang out like my friends do .its hard to find a common denominator with them.
    I am 25 now and I understand that everyone appreciates kindness and good gestures and love. I share such a relationship with few and do it wholeheartedly and with love.with others I try being polite and nice but I can’t stretch it for long.people start calling again and again and it becomes hard to put off.I am accused of not acting about freinds when I have never considered then as friends and was just being nice.
    I am having a bad phase.writing this dowm helped me.thank you.

  3. I’m feeling it, with IQ scores of 180 for the Malaysian Mensa when I was 18 did open new horizons for me. But then you realise that how irrational people can be. I would like to be normal but I can’t. I pity the society for not seeking out intelligent children out at a young age but instead instilling mediocre values upon them. Maybe that’s the balance of life, the intelligent ones are pulled down to mediocre level by the general population. Only gifted and privileged children gets their tickets to perform to the fullest.

  4. Haha, I know this is an old post, but it makes me laugh. This is an almost picture perfect description of me. Luckily for me, it seems, I got the long end of the straw. I grew up in a supportive environment and found another odd person like me. Several, actually. Our conversations were always seemingly random and left many people confused, but we could follow them perfectly. We each learned how to effectively communicate with our other peers, in time, but until then we were Life rafts for each other. I took the test when I was younger, and the test said I was an INTP. Took it today and it has yet to change.

  5. I’m currently 18, and I’ve had selective mutism sense second grade. However, I have never felt anxiety strongly, which is a trademark of the condition. For years I wondered why it was so hard to talk with other kids, and I wondered why other kids weren’t discussing the grand endeavors of the mind like I did. I was always isolated and it seemed nobody liked me. I felt like a failure, unintelligent. In class, I would feel dumb when other people came up with answers that everybody seemed to know automatically, while my answers were silly and complicated.
    Recently I discovered the possibility that I am indeed gifted and that nobody thinks the way I do at all. I was thrilled to learn and it has opened new doors of potential for me. I’m currently developing experimental tactics to improve my own brain function and improve my thought processes. I’m also attempting to increase my communication by tuning into others perspectives and it is indeed wonderful. I just wish that I discovered earlier!
    This post is really clear, I love it, thank you!

    • Hello, Expressions, and welcome to The Third Eve. Thank you for your comments. I think that many people whose IQ or temperament (personality) types (or both) are unusual feel isolated or unintelligent in the regular classroom. Since people with IQs in the gifted range score in the top 1-3% on standardized tests of intelligence, and some personality types occur in only 2-3% of the population, it’s possible to have both a high IQ and an unusual personality type, and go through life feeling isolated most of the time.

      I suggest you visit the Humanetrics web site ( ) to take an online version of the Myers-Briggs Temperament Inventory (MBTI). This will help you identify your temperament type according to the MBTI, which is a standardized test that has been widely used for decades. Carl Jung first theorized about these different personality types.

      I suggest this because perhaps your personality type is among the minority, AND you may have a high IQ, which could mean that you’ve been surrounded by people unlike yourself. Supposing a person with an IQ in the top 1% of the population has the temperament type of INFJ, INTJ, or INTP. These personality types occur in only 1-2.5% of the population. In a class of 30 other students, it is unlikely that there will be one person of like intelligence and personality in the class. In a graduating class of 1,000 students, at most 25 students may have a similar personality type and IQ. Going through life this way makes an unusual person feel, well… unusual! You can see the frequency of personality types in the general population and by gender here:

      My own IQ and temperament type place me in a group of about 0.5% of individuals everywhere. I’ve felt (and been) the oddball my entire life. While I learned to fake “normal” and get along well with others, it certainly caused me pain in my youth. The typical teenage and young adult complaint that “nobody understands me” was actually, in a way, true! Haha! However, the good news is that my spiritual and philosophical journeys taught me that we’re all, after all, the same. We all want love, acceptance, safety, and companions for the road, among other things.

      Stay in touch. I will try to write regularly again. This post has been one of the most popular posts I’ve written over the years, and I think I need to write more about intelligence. Thank you for your comments, and I wish you the best on your journey. Your intelligent way of solving social problems is spot-on for someone with superior problem-solving skills. It’s intelligent. The average Joe wouldn’t try to change anything. The fact that you started by working on yourself is significant, and I applaud you for that. Take care!

    • Hi, i was in the same situation. No body understand me and i was thinking of their conversation as so shallow, and when when i attempted to join in they would laugh at me and the way and speed of thinking. Because of that I started to interest in to psychology and neurology, new ways of thinking and self development. Just to know how to speak to them :D. Know i think the same ” I just wish that I discovered earlier”. that would save me a lot of pain. hah but know i can say it’s easer to live but finding the love one that can keep up with you… that’s the biggest challenge.

  6. I am happy that i found this forum right now. Ive always felt like no one i know has any connection with me and they just cant understand, but today that’s all changed. I just spent the past 45 minutes reading everyone’s comments here and its nice to know that there are other people out there that have problems so similar. I don’t really feel like writing my whole life story or anything ,because that would be really boring and time consuming, but i just had to say how much this page has really taught me.

    • I have pretty much felt the same way for years. I am 21 now and I still struggle to cope with being different.

      My mom just had a fight with me and told me that I think and act differently than other people and that’s my biggest problem. She hates my “individuality”, I just hate being so sensitive.

      Now I’m struggling not to hate myself, I’m just tired of being like this.
      I hate it. I hate life. Why can’t I be like other people?
      Everywhere I go i’m always the outsider, can’t connect or talk the same things as others. Sick of it and sick of trying to change into a “better person”. Right now I’d be much happier dead.

      • i sure felt the same way you do, intensifying as i grew older, saw many psychs, counselors, had many diagnosis, alcoholism. i thought i was broken. now i believe it was giftedness, that no-one recognized, and my quirks were pathologized. now i can see all those things i hated about myself, as having actually come from a place of giftedness, not “brokeness” or “defectiveness”. PLEASE hang in there! it took some time and growth, but today, i am very very close with the mother who i used to battle with, and i appreciate her sooo much!! i even see the specialness in my differentness from other peiople, and now so does my mom. hope i don’t offend, but have you tried praying? pursuing spirituality and a personal relationship with a Higher Power, has benefited me tremendously! and it all came to life for me with the simple but heartfelt prayer, of “help me” blessings and love to you, and please have the compassion for yourself that i know you would give to others. i am learning to count on myself to give myself the compassion that i gladly give to others. I have to PRACTICE lovingl myself at times, just as i can lover others. good luck to you, you are not alone in having those feelings, but they will not last forever. they are a part of your growth. please trust the process of growing through difficult times, and seek help. it is always darkest before the dawn. just dont give up before the dawn comes! you r not alone!

      • I cannot totally understand because I’ll never be you but we have similar thoughts. And my family in general except for my aunt and my dear deceased cousin tell me the same thing regularly. As well as being told that I wasted my brain and intelligence because I wanted a simple job instead of being a doctor, lawyer, corporate CEO or some other position deemed respectable by my family and friends.

        Funny thing is I have never seen myself as anything other than average. Look at my writing. Does it give anyone the impression that I have intellectual gifts beyond normal… lolz

        And the funny thing is outside people have commented on my ‘weirdness’ yet their words meant nothing. When family says it it hits in the heart.

        And my specific interests really give me little in common with people.
        Being an outsider is a pain. And the self hatred is very strong indeed.

        Do not want to be a ‘well adjusted’ person either because the things most people are happy with I’m not.

        Add to it the fact that I’ve pretty much not wanted to be here or human as far back as I can remember, and it is real hell. Age has made it worse …I’m 37.

        Have only survived this long because my first attempt at suicide failed and was scared of failing again. Do not want to end up crippled or a vegetable or locked up in an institution because all those are worse than death or my current existence.

        But I’m really close now because I have thought of a multiple method that cannot fail… well failure is improbable.

        Just tired of faking like I give a darn just to keep a job and maintain necessities. I want to change jobs like I did in university but unless one is lucky that does not work when you have to support yourself.
        And nobody wants to live in a crime ridden part of town if they can help it.

        Other people want you to be satisfied with the same things they are. And if you not then you are ‘ungrateful’ or ‘ignorant’. I have tons of interest they just vary and change a lot. But even with the ones that match others it is a pain having a discussion because it seems like they always want to have a competition about who knows more or who is better or some other form of pointless conflict.

        I just wish I could go to sleep and not wake up.
        Or to will myself to just fade away.
        Been wishing to leave this world for so long and I’m so tired.
        Only reason I still eat and drink is because I do not have the discipline to starve myself.

        But I put myself in a position where I will probably have to end things soon.
        I’m jobless and my early retirement money is running out. And since I do not want to be homeless I’ll probably be able to finally have the courage to go.

        Not looking for pity or even agreement. Just needed a place to vent because I have nobody else to share with… well one person but I do not want them to know because I’ve told everybody I’m going to a monastery.

        And none of the get better speeches. I was a suicide hotline counselor for years so I know all those words.

        Just as there is a range for sexuality, intelligence, ethnic background, height, weight, ability, etc there also seems to be a range of how much one wants to hold on to life and compromise to fit in at least to be able to maintain food, water and shelter.

        Just tired of putting forth the effort for so many reasons.

    • Hi, there. I apologize that I haven’t responded earlier. I attempted National Novel Writing Month in November and any writing I did went thataway. Thank you for your comments. It’s interested me that this particular article has been one of the most-read at this site. Folks who are gifted share wonky traits and a sense of being ill-suited to this world. Many (if not most) internalize this, a painful error that one has to correct later. Hopefully we swing from blaming ourselves and/or blaming others to a middle path whereby we can accept ourselves and others and get on with the task of being who we are, and sharing whatever gifts we have with others.

  7. This was THE most fasinating artical ive ever read,and if all of this words are correct then it all makes sens more then ever,and thx for the artical,i really needed guidness,and i just got to the right webpage at the right time,will link this to facebook,thx m8 d(n_n)b

  8. Thanks for this stimulating post. The study group finding that “no gifted people chose artistic professions” is strange. In the article [on my High Ability site] “Giftedness in the work environment” by Noks Nauta, Sieuwke Ronner, there is a summary: “A gifted individual is a quick and clever thinker, who is able to deal with complex matters. Autonomous, curious and passionate. A sensitive and emotionally rich person, living intensely. He or she enjoys being creative.”

  9. Quite a few of the parameters fit. I never saw myself as gifted. Got some type of IQ test as a child and accroding to my family apparently I scored really high because I could have skipped several grades and got put into these special programs. Never saw myself as smart but my folks did. Which meant that instead of being rewarded for excellence I was expected to do so.
    But chastised and punished for any minor screw ups. And sometimes the way I understood lessons was different then what they taught. And I could not explain how because it was just no way. Like some type of blast in my mind that went bang and there it is.

    Which pretty much made me scared of doing anything wrong. And that in turn made me create an alter personality that was a juvenile delinquent and pretty much did my best to break the rules in any and every way possible. Even to the point that I did many very dangerous things because I figured if I died I would not have to worry about not living up to standards. Unfortunately I sruvived and then tried suicide a couple of times.

    Change interests like most people change underwear. And yet some things just stick with me and I always question why the limits are not pushed. Like why certain advanced tech (Nikola Tesla) was not followed. A guy created a gravitic engine in the 1953 and him and his notes just disappeared. Thing is I hate working in any field because you always have to do it their way and the people who make the rules do not do the job daily. I’d rather do something simple like mow lawns or move furniture and make a ton of money so I can spend my free time doing different things that actually interest me.

    Then again since I have never done anything noteworthy or wrold changing, I’m just an average human. Or maybe less than human. I may have some of the issues but I am in no way gifted.

    • I understand exactly what your saying, and agree 100%. Ive never heard of anyone else story so similar to my own, just know that i sympathize with you…Those dumbasses in charge just need to leave it up to the smarties haha.

      • The Lizard King, (it is me U.N. Owen because I lost my last account info).
        At least someone understands. And that for me is a gift greater than anything.
        Thank you for that my friend.

  10. I just wanted to say ‘thank you’. I am in my 40ies now and was never considered intelligent by my family, only strange, and I someone to be ashamed of. My family still treats me as a stupid person, unable to think rationally or figure out that 2 + 2 is 4. It hurts and my life has not evolved like most people’s lives. It died, in many ways, when I was little. When you describe the traits of the intelligent, I feel a sigh of relief. Finally someone understands, that I have no ill intent because I prefer idealism and truth to lies, and I am not dumb because I react quickly and differently than expected. After I started googling the behavior of the high IQ people, I felt a great relief. Of course, if I tell my family this, dad and siblings, they will scoff and shake their heads, as usual, but it helps *me*. And for that, I thank you.

    • I have been thinking that my son is gifted and not adhd. I am glad I read your comment because it really shows me how important it is that I do all I can to support his giftedness and not let his school bully me into medicating him.

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