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 misdiagnosed 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 psychomotor, 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.
A Variety of Interests and Abilities
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.