Constructs and models pertaining to exceptional human abilities

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definitions of giftedness (and talent) abound in the literature / so numerous are the definitions that Stankowski [1978] found it necessary to extract a more synthetic view through a classification system in five categories: (a) after the fact definitions focusing on adult prominent accomplishments, (b) IQ definitions specifying a particular threshold score, (c) talent definitions emphasizing outstanding performance in specific artistic and/or academic fields, (d) percentage definitions varying from a generous 20% or more to a strict 3% or less and (e) creativity definitions stressing original and productive accomplishments in a particular field Stankowski's system emphasizes the two general components implicitly or explicitly present in most definitions and models: (a) a "what is" statement pertaining to the core nature of the construct, its central or prototypical elements and (b) a "to whom" or "how many" statement about the size of the population targeted by the label / these two statements correspond to the usual distinction, in logic, between the comprehension of a concept and its extension; these two components will be examined separately (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
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Constructs and Models Pertaining to Exceptional Human
c. I\\0
Vniversitt! du Qutbec b Montrkal, Quebec, Canada
Children and adults who manifest exceptional abilities
and obtain superior performances in any field of
human activity are designated by a large vari-
ety of labels.
Terms found in the language of
experts and lay persons alike include “gifted”, “tal-
Ented”, “able”, “genius”, “prodigy”, “precocious”,
-excellent”, “expert”,
“competent” and “proficient”.
Because of their centrality in the literature, the present
:hapter will focus on the constructs of giftedness and
Definitions of giftedness (and talent) abound in
the literature; rare is the textbook without a chapter
devoted to a review of existing definitions followed by
a new proposal by its author. Indeed, an entire book
(Sternberg and Davidson, 1986) was published to bring
:ogether many of the more popular definitions and
models of the 1980s. So numerous are the definitions
:hat Stankowski (1978, cited in Davis & Rimm, 1985)
round it necessary to extract a more synthetic view
:hrough a classification system in five categories: (a)
the fact
definitions focusing on adult prominent
accomplishments, (b) lQ definitions specifying a par-
:icular threshold score,
(c) talent
definitions emphasiz-
,ng outstanding performance in specific artistic and/or
academic fields, (d)
definitions varying
From a generous 20% or more to a strict 3% or
‘ess and (e)
definitions stressing original
Ind productive accomplishments in a particular field.
these categories are by no means exclusive; many of
.he better known definitions and models of the last
wenty or thirty years would belong to more than
3ne of the above categories. Stankowski’s system
:mphasizes the two general components implicitly
3r explicitly present in most definitions and models:
:a) a “what is” statement pertaining to the core
lature of the construct, its central or prototypical
rlements and (b) a “to whom” or “how many” state-
nent about the size of the population targeted by
‘he label. These two statements correspond to the
rsual distinction, in logic, between the
)f a concept and its
these two compo-
lents will be examined separately in the following
The Constituents of Giftedness and Talent
As a first step in this discussion of the concepts of
giftedness and talent,
here follows a chronological
sample of definitions and models which have been cited
with somewhat more frequency in the gifted literature of
the last three decades.
Survey of Recent Definitions and Models
Among the numerous definitions published during the
195Os, two have withstood the test of time and appear
regularly in historical surveys of the gifted movement.
First, Witty (1958) considered as gifted any child “whose
performance in a potentially valuable line of human
activity is consistently remarkable” (p. 62). Witty’s list
of “lines” was fairly extensive and went well beyond the
traditional high IQ and academic excellence. DeHaan
& Havighurst (1957) proposed a definition which was
somewhat similar to Witty’s, but specified six domains
of excellence: intellectual ability, creative thinking,
scientific ability, social leadership, mechanical skills
and talents in the fine arts. Tannenbaum noted that
both definitions did not value strictly “skills that are
rewarded for social service of some kind (. . .) but
included abilities that are personally gratifying to their
possessors and that provide uncommon pleasure to
others” (1983, p. 64).
Inspired by the work of Guilford (1956) and his
Structure of Intellect, Taylor (1967) developed his
Multiple Talent approach as a means to promote the
development of various creative abilities in the class-
room. His pool of six talents, some of them far differ-
ent from those recognized at the time, were labeled:
Academic, Productive thinking, Communicating, Fore-
casting, Decision-making and Planning. He described
them as follows: “the set of talents included one non-
thinking way of reproducing and thereby
knowledge, plus five thinking ways of actively processing
and working with knowledge in order to acquire it”
(1986, p. 316). This model became the backbone for a
teaching program called Talents Unlimited (Schlichter,
F. Gagnt
1986). Taylor subsequently (1986) added three more
talents: Implementing, Human relations and Discerning
Probably the most often cited definition appeared in
the U.S. Commissioner of Education’s 1972 report to
the Congress of the United States, commonly called the
Marland Report.
Gifted and talented children are those identified
by professionally qualified persons who by virtue
of outstanding abilities, are capable of high perfor-
mance. These are children who require differentiated
educational programs and/or services beyond those
normally provided by the regular school program in
order to realize their contribution to self and society.
Children capable of high performance include those
with demonstrated achievement and/or potential abil-
ity in any of the following areas, singly or in com-
bination: (1) general intellectual ability, (2) specific
academic aptitude, (3) creative or productive think-
ing, (4) leadership ability, (5) visual and performing
arts, (6) psychomotor ability. It can be assumed that
utilization of these criteria for identification of the
gifted and talented will encompass a minimum of
3-5% of the school population (Marland, 1972, p.
The above definition was slightly modified a few years
later by the United States Office of Education (see Davis
& Rimm, 1985), mainly by deleting the sixth category
(psychomotor ability). Renzulli (1979) criticized this
definition, specifically the absence of non-intellective
(motivational) factors, the non-parallel nature of the six
categories and failure by its authors to provide guidance
against misinterpretation and misuse by practitioners.
Reviewing the literature on the determinants of adult
eminence in various professional fields, Renzulli brought
to the fore what he claimed to be three recurring causal
antecedents of exceptional productive performance;
these became the constituent elements of his conception
of giftedness. He synthesized his definition as follows.
Giftedness consists of an interaction among three
basic clusters of human traits-these clusters being
above average general abilities, high levels of task
commitment and high levels of creativity. Gifted and
talented children are those possessing or capable of
developing this composite set of traits and applying
them to any potential valuable area of human perfor-
mance. Children who manifest, or who are capable of
developing, an interaction among the three clusters
require a wide variety of educational opportunities
and services that are not ordinarily provided through
regular instructional programs (1979, p. 23).
Over the years, Renzulli has kept his definition intact,
defending it vigorously (see Renzulli & Owen, 1983;
Renzulli, 1988, 1990) against various criticisms (e.g.,
Borland, 1989; Gag&, 1985; Gross, 1993; Jane11 &
Borland, 1990; Jellen, 1985; Kontos et al., 1983a,
Tannenbaum (1983) proposed a somewhat different
definition. “Keeping in mind that developed talent exists
only in adults, a proposed definition of giftedness in
children is that it denotes their potential for becoming
critically acclaimed performers or exemplary producers
of ideas in spheres of activity that enhance the moral,
physical, emotional, social, intellectual, or esthetic life
of humanity” (1983, p. 86). Tannenbaum identified five
factors that serve to link promise with adult fulfilment:
“(a) superior general intelligence, (b) exceptional special
aptitudes, (c) nonintellective facilitators, (d) environ.
mental influences and (e) chance, or luck. The five
factors combine in a rare blend to produce great perfor-
mance or productivity” (1986, p. 34). Tannenbaum also
subdivided developed talents into four categories: (a)
talents comprising those exceptionally inventive
people who are the architects of major breakthroughs in
their field (e.g., science, medicine, social science and so
forth), (b)
talents (mostly in the arts) that con-
tribute to the beauty of our social environment, (c)
talents, which refer essentially to specialized high-level
skills-including the traditional professions-needed to
provide goods and services and (d)
which include practical domains of excellence (e.g.,
cooking, gardening), amusing ones (e.g., trapeze artist,
memory expert, speed reader), “extinct” abilities (e.g.,
orator, stone cutter) and even socially disapproved skills
(e.g., demagoguery, machiavellianism).
One of the more popular taxonomies of abilities
introduced during the last decade is Gardner’s (1983)
theory of multiple intelligences. Each of Gardner’s
intelligences was chosen because it represented a cul-
turally valuable and relatively autonomous set of skills
for problem-solving, each with an identifiable basis in
the human nervous system. He looked for signs of their
existence in eight areas, presented here in decreas-
ing order of importance: potential isolation by brain
damage, manifestation in idiots savants or prodigies,
an identifiable core set of operations, a distinctive
developmental history, an evolutionary history, support
from experimental psychological tasks, support from
psychometric findings and susceptibility to encoding in
a symbol system. Gardner identified in this way seven
distinct “intelligences”: the linguistic, the musical, the
logical-mathematical, the spatial, the bodily-kinesthetic,
as well as two personal intelligences: the intrapersonal
and the interpersonal. To each of these intelligences
corresponds a particular type of giftedness.
In contrast with Renzulli, Feldhusen has regularly
made significant and even major modifications to his
conception of giftedness. First, he proposed “that four
major psychological components comprise giftedness:
(1) superior talent and/or ability, (2) a high degree of
motivation, (3) unique self-concept and perceptual char-
acteristics, and (4) high-level creative capacities. Talents
and abilities are diverse, ranging from the academic and
artistic to the social and vocational” (1985a, p. 180). This
model was soon significantly modified as follows: “Our
composite conception of giftedness then includes (a)
eeneral intej
cc) achieven
focusing on
they constitu
FeldhUSen (1
He presente
assumes gen
poCiOUSly ,
emerging m’
a functional
creative skill:
aptitudes or
and motivatis
an individua
profession, ;
as “a camp
skills, exper:
the individu:
domains or c
(p. 5). Unfc
so much th<
does it mea
of giftedness
skills and mc
is no appart
produce two
not answer tl-
on his triarch.
together thre
and evalu
ential sub:
novelty or
or both. T
behavior ;
Selection c
relevant tc
forms, corre5
abilities typic
ln his view,
intellectual g
usual concep
creativity ant
ity, a comple
borrowed frc
selective encc
comparison. 5
insight proble
tually bright t
ss b
* life
hs in
.d to
2. .,
=. .,
: of
_pcneral intellectual ability, (b) positive self-concept,
tc) achievement
motlvatlon, and (d) talent . . . in
on these four aspects we are asserting that
the,, constitute ‘principal components’.” (1986, p. 112).
Fslbhusen (1992) modified his position
again recently.
He presented a
much more complex model, which
assumes genetically determined abilities that emerge
pr,cociously. Thesf are nurtured through the impact
of community, family and school experiences, as well as
emerging motivation
and learning styles and create
a functional knowledge base and metacognitive and
creative skills. This last trio of elements finally produces
,.arious talents. He defined talent as “a complex of
.+tu&s or inte!!igenCeS,
learned skills and knowledge
and motivations-attitudes-dispositions, that predispose
an individual to successes in an occupation, vocation,
profession, art, or business” (p. 5) and giftedness
35 **a complex of intelligence(s), aptitudes, talents,
&ills, expertise,
motivations and creativity that lead
the individual to productive performance in areas or
domains or disciplines valued by the culture and time”
(p. 5). Unfortunately, these two definitions overlap
X, much that giftedness and talent become almost
synonymous. If giftedness is “a complex of talents”,
does it mean that talents are constituent elements
of giftedness? If both include intelligences, aptitudes,
skills and motivation, where is the difference? If there
is no apparent difference, why take the trouble to
produce two distinct definitions? Feldhusen’s text does
not answer these questions.
Sternberg, for his part, based his concept of giftedness
on his triarchic theory of intelligence (1985) which brings
together three subtheories, as follows.
The componential subtheory specifies the mental
mechanisms responsible for the planning, execution
and evaluation of intelligent behavior. The experi-
ential subtheory further constrains this definition by
regarding as most relevant to the demonstration of
intelligence behavior involving either adjustment to
novelty or automatization of information processing,
or both. The contextual subtheory defines intelligent
behavior as that involving purposive adaptation to,
selection of, and shaping of real-world environments
relevant to one’s life (1986, p. 240).
Stemberg argued that giftedness could take many
forms, corresponding to different combinations of the
abilities typical of each of the elements of his theory.
ln his view,
“the triarchic theory implies a notion of
intellectual giftedness that is quite a bit broader than
usual conceptions, event those that take into account
creativity and motivation as well as intelligence” (p,
242)- Davidson (1986) defined giftedness as insight abil-
ity, a complex of three distinct psychological processes
borrowed from Sternberg’s componential subtheory:
*lective encoding, selective combination and selective
@mParison. She found that measures of performance on
bight problems discriminated clearly between intellec-
tually bright and average children.
Finally, having described and discussed most of the
above definitions and models, Borland (1989) proposed
his own, which he deemed more functional or practical in
the context of schooling. “For the purposes of education,
gifted children are those students in a given school or
school district who are exceptional by virtue of markedly
greater than average potential or ability in some area of
human activity generally considered to be the province
of the educational system and whose exceptionality
engenders special-educational needs that are not being
met adequately by the regular core curriculum” (pp.
The above citations and comments demonstrate that
definitions and models of giftedness can incorporate a
large variety of ingredients or components and that there
is little consensus in the field. One common denominator
of these definitions and models is their use of the concept
of abilities as a central theme. For some authors,
giftedness corresponds strictly to intellectual abilities
(e.g., Sternberg, Davidson). Occasionally, these authors
will mention that their definition concerns “intellectual
giftedness” (e.g., Sternberg) implicitly acknowledging
that other types of giftedness are possible; but, most of
the time, these definitions contain no such qualification
of the concept of giftedness. Some definitions, however,
clearly include a variety of other abilities: leadership
aptitude, physical abilities, artistic abilities (e.g., Witty,
DeHaan and Havighurst, Marland, and Tannenbaum
through his four types of talents). Even though he calls
his various native abilities “intelligences”, Gardner’s tax-
onomy belongs in this second group, since he acknowl-
edged that exact terminology was not a major issue in
his taxonomy. He commented: “Call them all ‘talents’
if you wish; or call them all ‘intelligences”’ (Walters
& Gardner, 1986, p. 175). Some definitions include
human characteristics which are clearly outside the
domain of abilities (e.g., Renzulli’s task commitment,
Feldhusen’s self-concept, Tannenbaum’s nonintellective
facilitators and chance factors). Some scholars reserve
the label of “true” giftedness to adult accomplishments
(e.g., Tannenbaum), judging children to manifest only
“potential” giftedness. Some appear to reserve the term
giftedness to a very small number of exceptionally
superior performers or producers of knowledge (e.g.,
Tannenbaum’s description of the adult gifted as “out-
standing contributors to the arts, sciences, letters and
general well-being of fellow humans”: 1986, p. 33);
others clearly mention a somewhat larger percentage of
the population (e.g., Marland’s 3% to 5%). In fact, most
proponents of models and definitions do not specify the
extension of their concept of giftedness or talent. Some
definitions include the mention of special educational
needs (e.g., Marland, Renzulli, Borland), while most do
not. In a few definitions (e.g., Renzulli, Tannenbaum,
Witty), giftedness is mostly associated with “socially
valued” areas of human endeavor. Finally, most of these
definitions focus on giftedness, without specifying how
it differs, if it does, from talent. For instance, Marland
clearly considers both terms to be synonymous-as do
F. Gagnt
most scholars in the field (Gag&, 1985). Tannenbaum
appears to consider giftedness as a potential which
actualizes itself in “developed talents”. Still, his defi-
nition implies that giftedness in adults corresponds to
developed talent, a clear nondifferentiation between
the two concepts. Taylor alone uses the label talent
for his group of abilities; but he does not specify how
these abilities are related to the concept of giftedness.
Concerning the nature of the two central constructs of
giftedness and talent, Gagne (1985, 1991) proposed a
model which attempts. to differentiate what types of
abilities could be associated with each of them.
Gagni’s Differentiated Model
Giftedness and
Gagne’s model associates giftedness with natural or non-
systematically developed human abilities, called apti-
tudes and talent with systematically developed abilities
or skills which constitute expertise in a particular field of
human activity. More formally,
to competence that is distinctly above average in one or
more domains of human aptitude.
to performance that is distinctly above average in one
or more fields of human activity” (1991, p. 66). The
model specifies that the emergence of a particular
talent results from the appiication of one or more
aptitudes to the mastery of knowledge and skills in that
particular field, mediated by the support of intrapersonal
motivation, self-confidence) and environmental
(e.g., family,
school, community)
as well as
through systematic learning and extensive practice (see
Figure 1).
Aptitudes are “natural” human abilities; they have thei
origin in the genetic structures of the human organism
they appear and develop more or less spontaneousll
and are present in every human being, albeit with j
large range of degrees, thus giving rise to individua
differences. They can be observed in very young childrel
in the absence of any systematic training or practice
When exercise and practice are controlled, they explair
a major proportion of individual differences in talentec
performances. They are the main explanatory factor fcl
the exceptional precociousness of children in school, 0:
young musicians or chess players, of athletes who attait
adult expertise at a very tender age. There has to bc
a genetic basis to each of these natural abilities fol
them to be defined as “gifts” or aptitudes; it is rnorc
than just having acquired some particular knowledge 01
skill which will make possible the acquisition of furthel
knowledge. The main behavioral index for a high degree
of a particular aptitude is easy and rapid learning 01
the knowledge and skills governed by that aptitude,
Even though aptitudes have a significant genetic corn.
ponent, their growth is by no means controlled solely bj
maturational processes; environmental stimulation plays
an equally important role through daily use and informal
training (e.g., physical conditioning, problem-solving
exercises in school, crosswords, creativity workshops,
voluntary social work and so forth).
The model identifies five aptitude domains: intellec-
tual, creative, socio-affective, sensorimotor and others.
Intellectual aptitudes are by far the better known and
more extensively studied. They could be subdivided
into a few or many subcategories, depending on the
\ Y
Creative E
i I
Learning I Training I Practice
{_ l”l‘“‘?i‘g
- AM tmsua~s
- Athletics and Sports
- Business and Commerce
- Communications
- Cratts and Trades
- Education
- Health services
- Science and Technology
- Transportation
,i ,
FIGURE 1. Gagne’s differentiated model of giftedness and talent.
theoretical sys’
arate category
srell received t
be little more
confronted wit
others ;
abilities as the
manifest thems
1981; Runco,
because there
who are convinc
to t:
products. It is t
new into existe.
Because it is pr
others, creativit
model than in SC
creativity is not
in many fields
business admini
This position t
between Gagnc
which creativity
of giftedness. ,’
Fishes “consur:
If knov+ledge, o:
p. 86). I
pftedness as “ex
Erformance in i
5 not a facility f
lr at a rapid pa
his statement. i
e considered c
iagne’s model,
dlity and rapi
tills and in gene
‘eas of the dom
SS; the mappir
)main is still c
rely includes L
npathy or the ,
Id feelings of ot
obinson, J 985)
cial intelligent.
laptive social b
‘pears that inte
ecociousness in
ecocious beha\
ers and adults
On the se
each of the f
Irksman, the SC
: odor recognit
ferentiation oft
Itor side there is
rterity. balance
an “expansion
ith a
)r for
11, of
.o be
s for
ge or
Jg of
,? and
n the
tl,eoretical system adopted. The identification of a sep-
arate category for creative abilities may not be equally
wcll received by all scholars, some judging creativity to
be little more than the exercise of intellectual abilities
@,,fronted with a problem-solving situation (Weisberg,
198g), others judging that there are as many creative
abilities as there are fields in which original ideas can
manifest themselves, at least qualitatively (e.g., Perkins,
1981; Runco, 1987). The category was maintained
because there is a fairly large community of scholars
,,.ho are convinced that there exists “an ability to respond
Qdap&eZy to the needs for new approaches and new
products. It
is essentially the ability to bring something
aeN’ into existence purposefully” (Barron, 1988, p. 80).
it is presented as one aptitude category among
others, creativity is given a more modest role in GagnC’s
model than in some others. GagnC (1985) points out that
creativity is not a key ingredient of talented performance
ia many fields (e.g., athletics, musical interpretation,
business administration, teaching, nursing and so forth).
Ihis position becomes a major point of divergence
between Gagne’s model and Renzulli’s definition in
which creativity is described as an essential component
of gifiedness. Similarly, Tannenbaum clearly distin-
guishes “consumers” of knowledge from “producers”
of knowledge. only these last being judged “truly gifted”
(1983, p. 86). He also points out that we may regard
giftedness as “extraordinary promise for productivity or
performance in areas of work that are publicly prized; it
is not a facility for consuming knowledge in abundance
or at a rapid pace” (p. 89). In direct opposition with
this statement. if there is one characteristic that could
be considered common to all domains of aptitude in
Gagne’s model, thus to all gifted persons, it is their
facility and rapidity in acqulrmg new knowledge and
skills and in generalizing this new knowledge to adjacent
areas of the domain.
Socio-affective aptitudes have been explored much
less; the mapping of subcategories in this very large
domain is
still quite deficient.
non-exhaustive list
surely includes abilities useful in social intercourse,
empathy or the ability to perceive the points of view
and feelings of others, social influence (e.g.. leadership),
manipulation and so forth. Research (see Janos &
Robinson, 1985) suggests a clear distinction between
social intelligence. corresponding to knowledge about
adaptive social behavior, and social behavior itself. It
appears that intellectually gifted children demonstrate
Precociousness in social intelligence, but not necessarily
Precocious behavioral abilities in their relationships with
Peers and adults. Sensorimotor aptitudes take many
forges. On the sensory side are all the abilities related
to each of the five senses: the visual acuity of the
marksman, the sound discrimination of the musician,
the odor recognition of the perfume maker, the taste
differentiation of the wine specialist and so forth. On the
motor side there is speed, endurance, strength, reflexes,
dexterity, balance, etc. The last category, “others”,
in an “expansion port” for less recognized and studied
natural abilities (e.g., extra-sensory perception, gift of
healing). Except for the
“others” category, there is
incontrovertible evidence concerning the heritability of
the above aptitude categories (Gardner, 1983; Plomin,
1986,1989). Scan (1981) stated:
Not only my work but research by many others also
supports the modest conclusion that we are different
from one another on both genetic and environmental
bases--not only in intellectual ability but also in
personality, cognitive style, gestural and postural
communication, linguistic style and probably all other
measurable characteristics. I am hard pressed to think
of any aspect of human behavior for which genetic
as well as environmental differences will not explain
part of the variability (pp. 526-527).
Plomin (1989) similarly commented:
The first message of behavioral genetic research
is that genetic influence on individual differences
in behavioral development is usually significant and
often substantial. Genetic influence is so ubiquitous
and pervasive in behavior that a shift in emphasis is
warranted: Ask not what is heritable, ask what is not
heritable (p. 108).
The model distinguishes two types of catalysts: intraper-
sonal and environmental. Intrapersonal catalysts include
human characteristics which are outside the domain
of abilities. The most visible of these catalysts, as
observed by Renzulli, is motivation. But, Renzulli’s
task commitment is only one of the three recognized
consequences of motivation on behavior; motives
or activate behavior, they
and guide it and they
it in the presence of obstacles until satisfaction
of the need. At least as important as task commitment
for the development of talent is the directional energy,
variously called curiosity, inquisitiveness, specific inter-
ests, or intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 1985).
Not much appears to be known about the origins of
interests (Schiefele, 1991); but recent research suggests
that vocational interests have a genetic component
(see Plomin, 1986). The third aspect of motivational
energy, initiative, has not been the object of much
study. There also appears to be no research concerning
relationships between these three types of effects of
motives on behavior. For instance, is it possible for
some individuals to show high interest in some area
without the accompanying persistence to pursue that
interest with the commitment and doggedness that
others would apply?
Many other human characteristics, besides motiva-
tion, have been associated in the literature with the
presence of intellectual aptitudes and academic talents
in children and adults. To name but a few, there
are self-confidence, self-esteem, autonomy, locus of
F. Gagnt
control, as well as moral judgment, emotional maturity
general mental health (Janos & Robinson, 1985).
Again, increasing evidence (Plomin, 1989; Bouchard et
al., 1990; Neubauer & Neubauer, 1990) suggests that
personality factors do not escape being under partial
genetic influence. But, there are some reservations
concerning the causal significance of these personality
characteristics. First, most of the research has focused
on comparisons between intellectually gifted (high IQ)
adolescents and average age-peers; much
known in other aptitude domains. Second, it is
quite clear (see Roedell et al., 1980) that the observed
differences do not explain a very large percentage of the
total variance between groups;
group differences
remain very important. Finally, the causal direction
of influence is not always clear. For instance, does
self-confidence cause talent, by supporting the individual
during his process of skill development, or is it an effect
brought about by the satisfaction of having achieved
competence in a field of talent?
Environmental catalysts can be subdivided into five
distinct categories: (a) significant persons, (b) significant
physical environments, (c) significant-interventions, (d)
significant events and (e) chance. The role of significant
persons is one of the best documented sources of impact
on talent development. The literature is replete with
studies about the role of parents, siblings, teachers,
trainers, public figures playing the role of identifica-
tion models and so forth. This role was particularly
emphasized in Bloom’s (1985) study of national leaders
in six talent fields: concert pianists and sculptors in
the arts, mathematicians and research neurologists in
the cognitive domain, Olympic swimmers and tennis
players in the psychomotor domain. It also comes out
clearly in interviews with eminent scholars who obtained
the prestigious MacArthur award in the form of “no
strings attached” five-year grants (Cox et al., 1985).
Physical environments are usually taken for granted,
without realizing their significant role. For instance,
children in rural areas or in developing countries often
have less access to environmental resources for talent
development. Even geographical features can play a
significant role: there are few talented downhill skiers
from the tropics or Netherlands, or talented sailors from
landlocked countries.
The category of significant interventions covers com-
munity resources. Many of them do not harbor the label
“gifted or talented program” (e.g., summer camps, math
or science clubs, Saturday art courses, the international
baccalaureate curriculum, selective high schools), but in
fact respond in some degree to enrichment needs felt
by gifted and talented youngsters. Programs can be
classified along three main dimensions: content, setting,
refers to the program’s activities, hope-
fully related to the type of ability being nurtured: aca-
demic subjects, artistic activities, athletics, leadership
training, etc.
refers to the insertion of enrichment
programs in the regular c]assroom as Compared to
various forms of part-time or full-time ability grouping.
refers to the presence or absence of accelerated
progression (e.g., early entrance, grade skipping, radical
acceleration); it is to be distinguished from curriculum
compacting (Reis, Burns, & Renzulli, 1992) whereby
the more rapid learning remains within the boundaries
of the year’s curriculum; accelerative alternatives may
be introduced to fill the learning space created by the
compacting. The fourth category, significant events, k
related to specific moments in the life of individuals
which have a lasting impact on their vocational decisions,
or on the choice of a non-vocational investment in a
captivating leisure activity or in some form
service. This category has been borrowed from Walters
and Gardner’s (1986) “crystallizing experiences”, which
they define as follows.
crystallizing experience, then, is the overt reac-
tion of an individual to some quality or feature of a
domain; the reaction yields an immediate but also
a long-term change in that individual’s concept of
the domain, his performance in it and his view of
himself.. . . Only retrospectively, after the individ-
ual’s behavior in the postcrystallizing period has been
observed, is it possible to single out an experience as
having crystallized ensuing activities (p. 309).
Finally, chance as an environmental catalyst plays a
role which is probably much more critical than is usually
recognized in the literature, if not in personal testimo-
nies. In fact, only Tannenbaum (1983) has examined in
some detail the role of chance factors. He mainly pres-
ents Austin’s (1978) hierarchical “quatuor” of chance
factors: (a) the stroke of good luck falling upon a passive
recipient, (b) the increased likelihood of being struck
with good fortune through constant active exploration of
the environment (the Kettering principle), (c) the luck
of being the right person at the right time at the right
place, but having the sagacity to grasp the significance
of an unforeseen event (the Pasteur principle) and (d)
the luck of those with “altamirage,” defined by Austin
as a facility for becoming lucky through a distinctive and
uncommon lifestyle (the Disraeli principle).
No category system could do justice to the immense
variety of talents manifested by children and adults in
all walks of life. They do not only include the more
traditionally mentioned fields of academia (humanities,
social sciences, health sciences, physical sciences, math-
ematics) and those of the arts (drama, visual arts, music,
dance, etc.), but also fields which are regarded as less
elitist, like athletics and sports, technology, crafts,
popular entertainment, business and administration and
so forth. The classification systems of fields of ta]ent
ded for 11
jS one
19m. It is b:
s&, Enters
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men& Systen
Constructs and Models Pertaining to Exceptional Human Abilities
rested for the Strong Vocational Interest Inventory
51vll) is one of the most comprehensive (Campbell,
977). lt is based on Holland’s RIASEC system of six
sic personality types (Realistic, Investigative, Artistic,
NiaI, Enterprising, Conventional), to which are associ-
ted 23 basic interest configurations, like agriculture and
(R), science and medicine (I), music and writ-
,e (A), teaching and social service (S), merchandizing
nJ public speaking (E) and office practices (C). The
IASEC system serves also to label dozens of more
ecific occupations, professional as well as technical.
he SVII’s structure of fields is a more basic way of
,zanjzing talents than Tannenbaum’s fourfold system
iarcity, surplus, quota and anomalous) mentioned
IrIier; in this last case the principle of classification
only indirectly related to the nature or content of
e talent. Moreover, Tannenbaum’s categories are
)t mutually exclusive, since scarcity talents are but
e more creative and innovative expressions of quota
The talent component of Gagne’s model is totally
bmpatible with Csikszentmihalyi’s (1988) distinction
:tween “domains” of knowledge and “fields” of human
Ideavor. His domains correspond to self-sufficient
eas of knowledge (e.g., physics, literature, music,
ulpture, engineering. history) embedded in a particu-
culture at a given time. The field corresponds to
e social organization of the domain; it designates all
e individuals who have attained definite competence
expertise in the domain, including those who have
hieved clear eminence; among other things these
ople guide the evolution of the domain by acting
judges of the creativity and originality of their peers’
ris component of the model illustrates more than the
hers the longitudinal dimension of talent development.
le growth of aptitudes and talents can be accounted
r by four developmental processes: (a) maturation,
I daily use in problem-solving situations, (c) informal
lining and practice and (d) formal training in a
rticular field of activity. The first two processes
‘ectly contribute only to the development of aptitudes.
le third process can foster the development of both
titudes and talents; its role in the development of
titudes has already been emphasized. In the case
talent development, it is quite common to observe
Iividuals learning by themselves to play a musical
Ntrurnent or to master a craft or a sport, some
them achieving respectable levels of proficiency
i expertise. Moreover, the administrative practice in
ne schools and colleges to offer credit by examination
monstrates that many individuals can develop their
idemic talents outside formal educational environ-
Ws. Systematic and formal training is the usual way
to develop talents in any field, especially when aspiring
to high level proficiency. Granted that many pupils
can go through primary school and even high school
without much studying; but the higher one goes up the
educational ladder, the more effort will be needed to
succeed. The apparent facility with which very talented
persons perform their skills, be they scientists, artists,
craftspersons or athletes, can easily make us forget the
hundreds and thousands of hours which were necessary
to build progressively that level of talent. And the
higher the talent, the longer the investment in time
and effort. This confirms eloquently Edison’s famous
comment about genius being 1% inspiration and 99%
Each component of the model can have an impact on
any of the others and it can be shown that these
relationships are bidirectional. It would not be hard
to find in the research literature support for each
of these relationships. For instance, the link between
intellectual aptitudes and academic interests, namely
that more able students are more intrinsically moti-
vated toward learning activities and school subjects, is
well documented (Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier, & Ryan,
1991). Conversely, there is frequent mention-yet little
research-that some interests emerge from a satisfying
exercise of one’s aptitudes in a particular field of talent.
As Bloom said: “We believe an individual tends to like
those activities which he believes he has done or can
do successfully” (1976, p. 78). Concerning relationships
between intrapersonal and environmental catalysts, it is
recognized that parents (or teachers) will tend to be
more attracted and give more support to youngsters
who manifest intense interest and motivation in their
field of talent. Again, the inverse causal relationship
is equally plausible: support by parents can have an
impact on the motivation and persistence of people
actively pursuing excellence in a particular field of
talent, as Bloom’s (1985) study mentioned above has
clearly shown. Most pairings could in the same way be
documented with appropriate empirical studies.
Other forms of relationships between the components
can be mentioned only briefly here (see Gag& 1991, for
more detail). First, relationships between aptitudes and
talents are co-univocal; it means that a given aptitude
can contribute to the development of many different
talents; conversely, any talent can draw its underlying
abilities from more than one aptitude domain. Second,
in direct opposition to Renzulli’s three-ring conception
of giftedness, Gagne maintains that no aptitude can
be considered a prerequisite for the emergence of
every talented behavior. For instance, above average
intellectual abilities are not essential to attain a fairly
high level of excellence in many fields of talent (e.g.,
athletics, crafts, arts); yet, they might be required for
F. Gag&
emergence among the most exemplary performers in a
field. Similarly, creative abilities do not always play a
central role. As GagnC (1991) argued:
of his socio-affective domain) and psychomotor ability
(part of his sensorimotor domain). Scholars have thus
been struggling for some time with this duality of
notions. One major hurdle to a more general acceptance
of a distinction between natural and developed abilities
before the 1980s was the “political incorrectness” of
acknowledging the existence of “natural” abilities which
had a genetic origin and, consequently, the partial
hereditary foundation of observed individual differences
among children and adults. In other words, the reigning
environmentalism of the 1960s and 1970s totally refused
to accept the existence of inequalities that could not
be corrected by
form of social intervention. The
weight of the evidence finally succeeded in bringing
about a more objective view of the respective roles
of nature and nurture in the development of huma
abilities, predispositions and traits.
What about celebrated athletes, whose accom-
plishments make international headlines; musicians
of international repute; teachers or professors who
have positively influenced their students; and many
others who have attained a certain prominence,
if not absolute renown, by means of interpretive
performances or other skills, and not principally
through creative aptitudes? (pp. 69-70).
Third, by definition, a talented person is also gifted,
but a gifted person might not be talented, as evi-
denced by underachieving gifted youngsters. Finally,
two persons can call upon different components to
attain an identical level of talent. Some youngsters
can cruise along in high school without any studying,
little motivation and minimal parental support, if they
have very high intellectual abilities. Friends in the same
class might achieve at the same level, but they would
have to make up for a lower level of native intellectual
abilities with greater motivation, harder work and/or
more intensive environmental support.
close examination of the definitions sampled at the
beginning of the chapter clearly shows that Gagne’s
model is not radically different from many of them.
In fact, is is foreshadowed in many expressions used
by their authors, especially the distinction between
potentialities and their eventual confirmation in “devel-
oped” or fully-fledged abilities and skills. Marland’s
“those with demonstrated achievement and/or potential
ability”, Renzulli’s “those possessing or capable of
developing this composite set of traits and applying
them to any potential valuable area of human perfor-
mance”, or Tannenbaum’s “their potential for becoming
critically acclaimed performers or exemplary producers”
represent clear examples of such a distinction. It is also
encountered in most discussions of the characteristics
of gifted and talented persons. For instance, Renzulli
(1979) criticized Marland’s categories as follows:
Two of the six categories (specific academic apti-
tudes and visual and performing arts) call attention
to fields of human endeavor or general performance
areas in which talents and abilities are manifested.
The remaining four categories are more nearly pro-
cesses that can be bought [sic] to bear on performance
areas” (1979, p. 7).
In this text Renzulli was in fact arguing for a dif-
ferentiation between two of Gagne’s fields of talents
and four of his aptitude domains: general intellectual
ability (intellectual aptitudes), creative and productive
thinking (creative aptitudes), leadership ability (part
It is time to examine some of the discrepancies signaled
earlier between the definitions and models sampled.
These will be discussed on logical grounds as well as in
the light of GagnC’s differentiated model of giftedness
and talent.
Some definitions and models of giftedness state, either
explicitly or implicitly, that “true” giftedness is restricted
to adult achievements; this corresponds to Stankowski’s
first category mentioned earlier. This tendency appears
not only in Tannenbaum’s “keeping in mind that devel-
oped talent exists only in adults”, but also in the fact
that most examples of gifted behavior describe the
extraordinary accomplishments of historical figures in
science (Einstein, Freud), arts (Mozart, Picasso), or
the humanities (Kant, Gandhi). The impression one
gets is that children manifest only “potential gifted-
ness”. Tannenbaum (1986) even says it explicitlv in
the following passages:
“Children who are identified
as potentially gifted” (p. 33), “because it excludes too
many children who may grow up to be gifted” (p. 33)
and “factors that link promise with adult fulfillment”
(p.34). “Potential giftedness” is totally irreconciliablc
with Gagne’s model. In the model, potential is giftedness
in the sense that aptitudes, even though measured as
performances on tests of (intellectual, creative, social,
or physical) abilities, represent existing natural abili-
ties which are called upon by an individual aspiring
to master the skills of a particular field of talent.
In fact, giftedness is
potential talent,
whether it is
observed in children or adults. As defined by Gag&
giftedness can be observed in very young children,
as well as in adolescents and adults, as long as the
;rrrr refers to the natu
Talent itself can apl
onfirmed by various for
:aming, arts and athleti
le talented usually ma.
ence onward. Consequt
atiated model, the adu
igures in any field shou
he products of their d
or their eminence; the
nstances of exceptional
le implicitly recognized
,ately. the label talent is
Irdinary accomplishmer
le an implicit hierarch!
nind of some scholars: g
uperior level of abilities
uch a distinction: Robe
nted to individuals with
Qs ranging from 145 t<
imilarly. when laypersc
ifference they perceil
eing talented, some ar
xceptional. less commc
: Belanger, 1991). It is
lis implicit. almost unc
ut it can substantially
cceptance of Gagne’s d
ly proposing five ge
iagne’s model radical1
efinitions which restric
ies (Stankowski‘s sect
efinitions abound. go
920s. Two have aIreat
riarchic theory and 13
two more appeared in S
Sook. Jackson and B
ipparently large and er
performance: “A gifted
Zcellent performance
jr theoretical interest”
ho reason to exclude
are predominantly phy:
$. 155). But, they v
[Ormances strictly in
agnitilve efficiency, kn
metacognition. Borkov.
a very similar explana.
based on the Campion
(Campione & Brown, I
levels of intellectual prc
level of pe
level calling
tent, refers to the natural, partly inborn, abilities of
Talent itself can appear at a very early age,
Lqnfit-med by various forms of precociousness in school
arts and athletics. But, the developed skills of
be talented usually manifest themselves from adoles-
cence onward. Consequently, following Gagne’s differ-
entiated model, the adult accomplishments of eminent
fipures in any field should be labeled talents insofar as
of their developed skulls are the reason
fcr their eminence;
these individuals would represent
bstances of exceptional talent. Their giftedness would
k implicitl!~
recognized through their talents. Unfortu-
aatcly, the label talent is rarely used in the case of extra-
ordinary accomplishments. One possible reason might
k an implicit hierarchy between the two terms in the
mind of some scholars: giftedness would correspond to a
level of abilities. Some have explicitly proposed
such a distinction: Robeck (1968) applied the word tal-
:nted to indiividuals with IQs in the 130-145 range, while
1~s ranging from 145 to 160 received the label gifted.
$rnilarly. when laypersons were asked to describe the
tifference they perceived between being gifted and
;ying talented, some argued that giftedness was-more
exceptional. less common than talent (Gag&, Motard,
6: BClanger. 1991). It is hard to assess how widespread
his implicit. almost unconscious, vertical distinction is;
>ut it can substantially affect the understanding and
acceptance of Gagne‘s differentiated model.
By proposing five general domains of giftedness,
Gagne’s model radically differs from all models and
3efrnitions which restrict giftedness to cognitive abil-
ities (Stankowski’s second category). Such restricted
definitions abound, going back to Terman’s in the
%Os. T\VO have already been described: Stemberg’s
tiarchic theory and Davidson’s insight “subtheory”;
WO more appeared in Sternberg and Davidson’s (1986)
jock. Jackson and Butterfield (1986) proposed an
Vparently large and encompassing definition of gifted
Wformance: “A gifted child is one who demonstrates
:xcellent performance on any task of practical value
3r theoretical interest” (p. 155), adding that they saw
‘a0 reason to exclude from our definition skills that
ae predominantly physical, artistic, or interpersonal”
155). But, they went on to explain these per-
Aannances strictly in terms of cognitive constructs:
%nitive efficiency, knowledge base, strategy use and
“etacognition. Borkowski and Peck (1986) described
? very similar explanatory model of gifted behavior,
Wd on the Campione-Brown model of intelligence
‘Campione & Brown, 1978). It posits two hierarchical
kWs of intellectual processing, namely an elementary
*chitectural level of perceptual efficiency and a higher
QecutilTe level calling upon a knowledge base, a set
of strategies for learning and problem solving and a
metacognitive component.
All these strictly cognitive models of giftedness would
be totally compatible with Gagne’s model if they speci-
fied that they attempt to circumscribe inteZlectua1 gift-
edness. Unfortunately, it is not always clear that their
concept of giftedness allows for other forms of natural
abilities besides intelligence. As soon as one accepts
to associate giftedness with natural abilities, it should
follow “naturally” to recognize that these abilities extend
well beyond the cognitive domain. If we disregard their
name, Gardner’s seven “intelligences” correspond to
such a list of natural abilities, the more so when taking
into account their eight selection criteria. It can be
seen that they are closely related to Gagne’s apti-
tude domains. Gardner’s linguistic, spatial and logical-
mathematical intelligences would all become subcat-
egories of Gagne’s intellectual aptitudes domain; the
musical and bodily-kinesthetic intelligences would fall in
his sensorimotor domain; the two personal intelligences
(intra/inter) would become subcategories within his
socio-affective domain. In short, if intellectual giftedness
is but one form of giftedness, then the general concept
of giftedness must be defined in such a way as to
include all manifestations of giftedness in all domains
of human behavior. A reduction of giftedness to superior
intelligence is identical to a reduction of human abilities
to intellectual ones, as so many scholars have done
in psychology and education (e.g., Lohman, 1989;
Horn, 1976; Guilford, 1985). One wonders if this
“cognocentrism” might not be an indirect form of elit-
ism: could non-intellectual abilities be overshadowed,
sometimes even ignored, because they are felt-more
than judged-to be less noble than intellectual ones?
According to Davis and Rimm (1985), the United States
Office of Education decided to remove psychomotor
ability from the list of performance domains because
“artistic psychomotor talents (for example, dancing,
mime) could be included under performing arts, and
athletically gifted students are already very well pro-
vided for” (p. 11). This was an unfortunate decision
from the point of view of the defining process. Gen-
eral definitions of concepts should never be limited
or influenced by practical or political considerations.
Definitions and applications are two distinct operations.
Program conceptors could well decide to consider and
implement only certain aspects of a broadly defined
concept; there is no need for a procrustean modification
of the definition to make it fit a particular context. In
a similar fashion, Borland (1989) specified that gifted
children had to demonstrate their superior ability “in
some area of human activity generally considered to
be the province of the educational system” (p. 33).
To be completely fair, it must be pointed out that
F. Gagnt
Borland qualified his definition by stating at the outset
“for the purposes of education”. Still, it would have
been preferable first to define the full concept of
giftedness, then to specify which subpopulation would
be considered in a particular context. For example,
is quite easy to specify that a given program addresses
the special needs of the subgroup of mathematically
talented youths, as Julian Stanley did in the Study of
Mathematically Precocious Youth (Stanley et al., 1974);
there is no need to restrictively define the talented as
those who manifest mathematical abilities.
Borland’s restricted definition evolved from his criti-
cism of “disjunctive multitrait” definitions of giftdeness
(e.g., Gag&, Gardner, Marland, Witty), which he
found difficult to operationalize because they generated
numerous subgroups of gifted children. “One need
only imagine the complexity of the identification and
programming plan that would have to be put into effect
in a school district” (1989, p. 12). This argument raises at
least two objections. First, the complexity of a problem
should never be an argument to abstain from addressing
it; most problems our technological societies now face
are very complex indeed (e.g., environmental issues,
international trade accords, civil wars and other disputes
between nations); should we decide no-t to address them
for such a reason? Second, some schoolboards have
succeeded in offering a large variety of services that
cater to the needs of diverse groups of gifted and
talented youngsters: special high school programs in
science, literature, foreign languages, etc.; programs
or special schools in fine arts, drama, dancing; music
conservatories; special schedules for those active in ath-
letics; and so forth. The diversity in available responses is
there; schoolboards can draw from a long list of efficient
and successful programs (see Juntune, 1986). In short,
disjunctive multitrait definitions need not be an obstacle
to effective programming; on the contrary, they open
the door to more adequate and specific responses to the
particular educational needs of the diverse subcategories
the population of gifted and talented children and
Many scholars introduce in their definitions “non-
ability” or personality factors; recall Renzulli’s task
commitment, Tannenbaum’s nonintellective facilitators,
Feldhusen’s self-concept and achievement motivation.
These characteristics are referred to in the scientific
literature by various labels: tendencies, predispositions,
traits, temperaments, drives, motives, etc. Should such
elements be part of a definition of giftedness or
of concepts focus essentially on
their constituent elements;
of concepts and
constructs can include more peripheric information. If
we accept that the core of the giftedness concept is
natural abilities, then we must exclude all non-ability
characteristics. Indeed, intellectual giftedness will b
assigned as a label if a person demonstrates-throu&
an IQ test or any appropriate measure of Intellectual
functioning-intellectual competence which is markedly
above average; no other criterion is necessary for the
label to be correctly ascribed. It follows that any
underachieving pupil who obtains an IQ of 130 or more
should be considered gifted, even if that pupil displays no
school motivation whatsoever, low self-esteem, a total
absence of confidence and autonomy, etc. The IQ alone
is sufficient evidence of intellectual giftedness. Similarly,
if adults are assessed as to their physical condition and
show superior strength, or endurance on a treadmill,
or flexibility, they should be recognized as physically
gifted, even if they had never practiced any sport
or athletic activity, showed no interest whatsoever in
such pursuits and suffered from major personal andlor
social inadaptations. The superior natural ability b
giftedness and nothing else is needed for the label to
be appropriate.
Is the situation different in the case of talents? Not
at all; the same distinction holds between definitions of
talent as opposed to descriptions of talented persons. If
we accept that talent corresponds to “performance that is
distinctly above average in one or more fields of human
activity” (Gag&, 1991, p. 66), then only the constituent
elements of that performance, namely the developed
abilities and skills, belong in the definition itself. Talent
in piano playing is nothing but a level of performance
that is distinctly above average; academic talent is
nothing but a level of achievement that is distinctly
above average; talent in swimming is nothing but a level
of performance that is distinctly above average; and so
forth. No doubt that talented persons in a given field
exhibit some personal characteristics that differentiate
them somewhat--on average-from those who are less
talented in that field; hundreds of such comparative
studies have shown statistically significant differences
on a large inventory of personality constructs (see Janos
& Robinson, 1985). But, these characteristics are not
of the talented performance; they may act as
contributors, facilitators or catalysts in the development
of talent, or appear and develop as a result of the
talented performance. Talent development requires the
support of these facilitators, probably the more so if the
person aspires to a very high level of talented perfor-
mance, but they are not components of the talent itself.
Among the elements in GagnC’s model, only aptitudes
come close to being constituents of talents, insofar as the
developed skills result from the systematic training and
exercise of natural abilities in a specific and restricted
context. The musician’s dexterity on the keyboard, the
neurosurgeon’s dexterity when operating, the dexterity
of the potter or that of the graphic artist, all have their
origin in a more general psychomotor aptitude. There
is a proximity of nature between aptitudes and talents
which is not found between catalysts and talents. Still,
there remains a difference in kind between natural
abilities and developed skills, a difference clear enough
1o become the f(
3nd talents in C:
ne descripi
1~~1s as contrib
clar model as
ktween promi:
3ct as linkages j
should be a
ln fact,
s intellectual a;
problem is th:
constituents of
promise and f
in the structu
dth Gagne’s c
Marland‘s deli
**require differ\
services beponc’
school pro;
definitions also
rifted children’
Lnperfect respo
of information !
@ftedness and 1:
factors were e?
not constituent
Moreover. this
Such exclusion
attenuate their
of providing for
aptitudes and 1
needs should b
gifted children,
of giftedness an
Some definition
call upon a value
performances v
instance, Witty
lines of human j
(1986) used the
practical value
(1983) was pro1
scribed giftednt
the moral. ph!
aesthetic life of
1s of
s. If
It is
Constructs and Models Pertaining to Exceptional Human Abilities
fr, l,ecc,me the foundation of the distinction between gifts
Md talents in GagnC’s model.
me description
of Gagne’s aptitudes and cata-
t\sts as contributors to talent development resembles
presentation of the components of his
si3r model as
“five psychological and social linkages
t(ztwcen promise and fulfillment” (1986, p. 34). If they
h3 as linkages (GagnC’s catalysts?), then none of them
should be a constituent element of either “promise”
t6agne.s aptitudes?) or “fulfillment” (GagnC’s talents?).
In fact, two of them-general intellectual ability and
$..cia] abilities
-are clearly described by Tannenbaum
ti intellectual aptitudes (general vs specific). The logical
Prch]em is that they cannot be at the same time
,astituents of the “promise” and linkages between
promise and fulfillment.
Apart from this problem
L, the
organization of its components,
Taanenbaum’s model presents many close similarities
pith Gagne’s differentiated model of giftedness and
.\larland’s definition specifies that gifted children
-require differentiated educational programs and/or
xrvices beyond those normally provided by the regu-
IX school program”;
both Renzulli’s and Borland’s
jsfinitions also include a very similar remark about
Sfted children’s special educational needs and the
tmperfect response of the regular curriculum. This type
of information should not be included in a definition of
_dftedness and talent for the same reason that personality
factors were excluded: special educational needs are
aat constituent elements of either giftedness or talent.
lforeover, this characteristic applies only to children.
Such exclusion is not meant in any way to negate or
ittcnuate their relevance and importance in the context
of providing for the maximal development of each child’s
?itudes and personality. It simply means that such
needs should be introduced as part of descriptions of
Sfted children. but outside the definition of the concepts
Of ,eiftedness and talent.
Some definitions, mostly the disjunctive multitrait ones,
;all upon a value system to specify what types of superior
serformances will be labeled gifted or talented. For
mstance, Witty (1958) spoke of “potentially valuable
Iines of human activity”,
while Jackson and Butterfield
!*986) used the much broader expression “any task of
Practical value or theoretical interest”. Tannenbaum
(1983) was probably the most explicit. First, he circum-
scribed giftedness to “spheres of activity that enhance
*e moral, physical, emotional, social, intellectual, or
aesthetic life of humanity”.
Then, he introduced the four
categories of talents already described (scarcity, surplus,
quota and anomalous). It is a very hierarchical system,
with scarcity and surplus talents-judged equally valu-
able-at the top and anomalous talents at the bottom.
When confronted with the definition, this taxonomy
raises a few questions. For instance, if gifted (talented?)
adults must become “critically acclaimed performers
or exemplary producers of ideas”, will these labels
be restricted to those few exceptional individuals who
are recognized as members of the scarcity and surplus
categories? What becomes then of the talented in the
two other categories? Will they be considered “just” tal-
ented, but not gifted, thus confirming our earlier hypo-
thesis about a possible hierarchical relationship between
the two terms? Moreover, if giftedness must appear in
“spheres that enhance the moral . . . life of humanity”,
what happens to
“anomalous” talents, which include
“socially disapproved skills such as wily interpersonal
behavior and demagoguery” (1986, p. 25). Are these
to be labeled talents but not gifts? Values also creep
up in less explicit ways. As mentioned earlier, scholars
who choose all their examples in certain fields of human
endeavor, usually the sciences, the arts and the human-
ities-the noble ones-are indirectly creating a hierarchy
between these more desirable or highly valued talents
and other less desirable ones (e.g., technology, popular
arts, athletics and sports, business and administration).
The preceding discussion brings forth some of the
problems generated by the introduction of values in
the definition of gifts and talents. First, there is a
logical problem similar to the one mentioned above in
relation with jurisdictions, namely a confusion between
definitions and applications. It was said that definitions
should not be modified to take into account practical
or political problems; what should be done is to select
those aspects of the definition which are applicable to
a particular context. The problem here is identical. The
value system should not appear as part of the definition
of gifts and talents, but be brought up instead when
discussing which particular gifts and talents should be
fostered and nurtured by the schools or the community.
Modifying the definition to make it congruent with the
values of a particular culture or societal subgroup is
analogous to censure. Second, the value systems usually
proposed definitely have an elitist flavor, inasmuch that
they introduce a ranking of talents more congruent with
the values of a certain intellectual elite, with science and
arts near the top of the scale and everything else at a
lower level (as is the case with Tannenbaum’s quota
and anomalous talents). These hierarchies only give
lip service to more popular talents, like rock music,
athletics and sports, crafts and trades, home activities
(cooking, gardening, renovating, interior decorating,
sewing and so forth). Why do scholars rarely describe
the talents of popular singing stars, athletes in sports,
talented landscape gardeners, chefs, teachers and so
forth? Why analyze the lives of music composers much
more frequently than those of talented performers? Why
mention only the doctors who invent new techniques or
do research and never those who excel in diagnosing,
in performing surgery, or in their socioaffective rapport
with patients? Why never give examples of successful
entrepreneurs, effective administrators, proficient sales-
persons and so forth? Why put aside the excellence of a
top notch auto mechanic, a superior electrician, or a very
talented social worker? A more “democratic” approach
to the categorization of talent fields would undoubtedly
allow many more individuals to feel that they deserve the
label “talented”, that it is not the exclusive preserve of
a small group of more prestigious fields or subfields of
human activity.
Finally, the inclusion of a value system automatically
implies the exclusion of “socially reprehensible” gifts
or talents. Does it mean that the sexual abilities of
a Don Giovanni or a geisha, the social abilities of a
Machiavelli or a con artist, the intellectual abilities of
a Mafia leader or a successful drug dealer cannot be
labeled gifts or talents? Negating their existence does
not prevent them existing by any means. They can even
be the object of much praise and respect in certain
subcultures. There exist many areas of the underworld
in which individual differences in ability can manifest
themselves: pickpockets, counterfeit artists, robbers,
swindlers, assassins, etc. The dexterity of a very talented
pickpocket is no less a superior human ability than that
of a talented neurosurgeon! Both should be considered
equally talented in their respective fields. Similarly, how
can we not acknowledge the superior intellectual and
social abilities of dictators like Hitler, Stalin, Fidel
Castro, Mobutu Sese Seko and so many others who
succeeded in maintaining for years their power over
their fellow citizens. Talent is a distinctly superior
performance no matter what the field of activity is.
Giftedness is superior natural </