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The Intimate Relationships of the Intellectually Gifted: Attachment Style, Conflict Style and Relationship Satisfaction Among Members of the Mensa Society

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  • Gifted Adults Foundation, The Netherlands

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To date relatively little is known about the intimate relationships of the intellectually gifted and the way they attach themselves to and handle conflicts with their intimate partner. The present study examined these issues by examining the relationship between attachment styles, conflict styles and relationship quality in a sample of 196 adult members of the Mensa society. These results were compared with findings from a general community sample (n = 145). Results showed that, overall, Mensa members showed similar levels of relationship quality compared to the control sample, but also tended to deal less constructively with conflicts, and reported higher levels of fearful attachment. Analyses showed that the relations between relationship quality, conflict styles and attachment were comparable in the two samples, with the exception of the role of fearful attachment in the relationship. Conflict styles mediated the relations between attachment and relationship quality in both samples. Results are discussed in light of the scarce knowledge on the intimate relationships of the gifted.
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Marriage & Family Review
ISSN: 0149-4929 (Print) 1540-9635 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/wmfr20
The Intimate Relationships of the Intellectually
Gifted: Attachment Style, Conflict Style and
Relationship Satisfaction Among Members of the
Mensa Society
Pieternel Dijkstra, Dick. P. H. Barelds, Sieuwke Ronner & Arnolda P. Nauta
To cite this article: Pieternel Dijkstra, Dick. P. H. Barelds, Sieuwke Ronner & Arnolda P. Nauta
(2016): The Intimate Relationships of the Intellectually Gifted: Attachment Style, Conflict Style
and Relationship Satisfaction Among Members of the Mensa Society, Marriage & Family
Review, DOI: 10.1080/01494929.2016.1177630
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01494929.2016.1177630
Accepted author version posted online: 14
Apr 2016.
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1
The Intimate Relationships of the Intellectually Gifted: Attachment Style, Conflict Style
and Relationship Satisfaction Among Members of the Mensa Society
Pieternel Dijkstra
Social Psychologist, Private Practice, Netherlands
Dick. P. H. Barelds
Department of Psychology, University of Groningen, Netherlands
Sieuwke Ronner
Meríones Advies, Gouda, Netherlands
Arnolda P. Nauta
Gifted Adults Foundation (IHBV), Delft, Netherlands
Address correspondence to Pieternel Dijkstra, De Holterij 1, Schildwolde 9626AM, Netherlands.
E-mail: pieterneldijkstra@ziggo.nl
Abstract
To date relatively little is known about the intimate relationships of the intellectually gifted and
the way they attach themselves to and handle conflicts with their intimate partner. The present
study examined these issues by examining the relationship between attachment styles, conflict
styles and relationship quality in a sample of 196 adult members of the Mensa society. These
results were compared with findings from a general community sample (n = 145). Results showed
that, overall, Mensa members showed similar levels of relationship quality compared to the control
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sample, but also tended to deal less constructively with conflicts, and reported higher levels of
fearful attachment. Analyses showed that the relations between relationship quality, conflict styles
and attachment were comparable in the two samples, with the exception of the role of fearful
attachment in the relationship. Conflict styles mediated the relations between attachment and
relationship quality in both samples. Results are discussed in light of the scarce knowledge on the
intimate relationships of the gifted.
Keywords: attachment style, conflict style, gifted adults, Mensa, relationship satisfaction
Having a loving and fulfilling relationship with someone is one of the most important
contributors of long-term happiness (Caunt, Franklin, Brodaty, & Brodaty, 2013). Especially the
relationship with an intimate partner (more than, for instance, relationships with friends or family
members) makes individuals feel satisfied about their lives (Demir, 2010). Those who lack such a
relationship, or have intimate relationships of low quality, may experience feelings of loneliness
and depression, and suffer from health problems, especially in response to stress (e.g., Cropley &
Steptoe, 2005; Hawkins & Booth, 2005). Considering the importance of intimate relationships to
both mental and physical well-being, it is no surprise that many scholars have studied intimate
relationships and the variables and processes that are associated with the quality of these
relationships. In these studies, however, very little attention has so far been paid to gifted adults
(for a review see Rinn & Bishop, 2015), in other words, individuals with an IQ over 130 (see, for
instance, Dijkstra, Barelds, Groothof, Ronner, & Nauta 2012; Hollinger & Kosek, 1986).
According to Dijkstra et al. (2012) studies on the intimate relationships of gifted
individuals are scarce because the most reliable way to trace and select gifted adults is to measure
individuals’ IQ scores by means of a standardized intelligence test. This would usually mean a
great investment from researchers. Despite the fact that studying the intimate relationships of the
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gifted may be a relatively elaborate undertaking, it seems worthwhile to take the effort to study
the gifted population. There are several reasons why differences between gifted and non-gifted
individuals in their intimate relationships may be expected. First, there are several indications that
gifted individuals have slightly different attitudes and beliefs about intimate relationships than
people from the general population. As a consequence, they may experience their intimate
relationships differently. Dijkstra et al. (2012), for instance, found that, compared to other single
men, gifted single men attached more value to a potential partner’s educational level and
intelligence, and less to a potential partner’s wish to have children and exciting personality. In
addition, the gifted have been found to report lower levels of intimacy in their friendships,
presumably because of their stronger instrumental orientation (Mayseless, 1993). This finding
suggests that gifted individuals may deal differently with intimacy, possibly also in the context of
the relationship with a partner. In addition, differences between gifted and non-gifted individuals
with regard to their intimate relationships may be expected because of gifted individuals’ higher
emotional sensitivity and relative difficulty to accept criticism (e.g., Jacobsen, 1999). In addition,
they may feel isolated or misunderstood, especially when others in their environment, for instance
their partner, are not gifted (e.g., Tolan, 1994). Finally, gifted individuals have been found to have
higher self-esteem, more positive attitudes towards female careerism (Roznowksi, Reith, & Hong,
2000), and to be more open to new experiences (Zeidner & Shani-Zinovich, 2011). All of these
characteristics have the potential to either reduce or enhance marital satisfaction among the gifted
more so than among the non-gifted (e.g., Perrone-McGovern, Boo, & Vanatter, 2012).
The present study set out to examine the quality of the relationships of gifted individuals
engaged in an intimate relationship with a partner, comparing it to the quality of the relationships
of individuals from the general community. In addition, the present study examined two potentially
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relevant variables related to relationship quality, again in both a sample of gifted individuals and
a community sample. More specifically, we examined the extent to which both attachment styles
and conflict styles are related to relationship quality among gifted individuals and individuals from
a community sample. To date neither conflict styles, nor attachment styles, nor their relations with
relationship quality have been studied among gifted adults (see for instance Rinn & Bishop, 2015).
ATTACHMENT STYLES
According to attachment theory (Bowlby, 1969) children unconsciously develop a specific
attachment style in response to the way they are treated by their caretakers. This attachment style
is a relatively consistent way of responding to separation from a parent. The experiences in
relationships with caretakers lead to the development of mental representations or ‘internal
working models’, that is, a set of postulates about how close relationships operate, the extent to
which one is worthy of love and support, and the extent to which others are dependable. Children
who have caretakers who are always available to them, and responsive to their needs when they
are in distress, will most likely develop a secure attachment style. They will view others as
trustworthy, dependable and helpful, and develop a positive view of themselves. In contrast,
children whose caretakers show rejection, a lack of responsiveness or physical and emotional
abuse, are more likely to develop an avoidant attachment style, characterized by keeping distance
from others and a cynical view of others as untrustworthy and undependable. Children whose
caretakers respond inconsistently to their needs are more likely to develop a preoccupied
attachment style, characterized by a strong desire to be close to others, combined with a fear that
others will not respond to this desire. Bartholomew & Horowitz (1991) later distinguished two
types of the avoidant attachment style. First, individuals may desire intimate relationships with
others but avoid them because they are afraid of being hurt (the anxious attachment style). Second,
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individuals may genuinely prefer freedom and independence to closeness with others (the
dismissing attachment style).
According to attachment theory the effects of childhood attachment relationships extend
into adulthood. Individuals tend to attach themselves to an intimate partner the way they attached
themselves to their parents when they were children. Consistent with this line of reasoning, several
studies have shown attachment styles to be associated with relationship quality, with partners with
a secure attachment style reporting the highest relationship quality and highest levels of
commitment (e.g., Besharat, 2003; Hammond & Fletcher, 1991; Pistole, 1989; Sprecher & Fehr,
2011). In contrast, individuals with a preoccupied attachment style perceive more conflict in their
relationships, tend to be relatively jealous, lack anger control, report a tendency for conflicts to
escalate in severity, and are ineffective support givers, whereas dismissingly attached individuals
show high hostility and escapist responses during conflict, and are more likely to sulk in an attempt
to get support from their partner (e.g., Besharat, 2003; Buunk, 1997; Simpson, Rholes, & Nelligan,
1992). To date very little is known about the attachment styles of gifted adults and the role their
attachment styles play in their intimate relationships. The present study examined gifted
individuals’ attachment styles and their relations with relationship quality, comparing these
relationships with those found among other individuals.
CONFLICT STYLES AND RELATIONSHIP QUALITY
Conflict is natural and inevitable in intimate relationships. Whether dyadic conflict has
negative or positive consequences for relationship maintenance and satisfaction depends on the
way conflicts are handled (Bertoni & Bodenmann, 2010). This is even more important than the
content of the conflict (e.g., Stanley, Markman, & Whitton, 2002). In addition to studying the
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relationship between attachment styles and relationship quality among the gifted, the present study
therefore also examined the relations between relationship quality and conflict styles. Conflict
styles are ways of handling interpersonal conflict. Several studies have shown that two dimensions
of conflict resolution can be distinguished (e.g., Blake & Mouton, 1964; Rahim, 1983; Rahim &
Magner, 1994; Thomas & Kilmann, 1978). The first dimension is concern for the self, and refers
to the degree (low or high) to which someone, during conflict, is focused at satisfying his or her
own needs. The second dimension is concern for others and refers to the degree (low or high) to
which someone, during conflict, is focused at satisfying the needs of others. On the basis of these
two dimensions, five conflict styles can be distinguished (e.g., Blake & Mouton, 1964; Rahim,
1983; Rahim & Magner, 1994; Thomas & Kilmann, 1978). Whereas the integrating conflict style
combines a high concern for others and a high concern for self, the dominating conflict style
combines a low concern for others and a high concern for self. In addition, the obliging conflict
style combines high concern for others and low concern for self whereas the avoiding conflict style
combines a low concern for others and a low concern for self. Finally a fifth conflict style,
compromising, refers to way of handling conflict by showing intermediate concern for both others
and self (see Figure 1; adopted from Rahim, 1983, p. 369).
Research on conflict resolution in marriage suggests that the integrating and compromising
conflict styles are positive ways of handling conflict, since they are characterized by negotiation,
compromise, and constructive problem solving. In contrast, the dominating conflict style can be
seen as a negative way of handling conflict, since it may be accompanied by offence and emotional
pressure. Finally, the avoidant and obliging conflict styles may become problematic when used
too frequently (Bertoni & Bodenmann, 2010).
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Research using the five conflict styles described above seems to support this line of
reasoning. For instance, Greeff and De Bruyne (2000) showed that, among couples from a
suburban Black community in South Africa, both husbands and wives who primarily adopted an
integrating conflict style, reported highest marital satisfaction. In contrast, those who primarily
adopted a dominant conflict style reported lowest marital satisfaction. Likewise, in a sample of
Taiwanese individuals, Cheng (2010) found positive correlations of about .40 between the
integrating, compromising and obliging conflict styles and marital satisfaction. In this sample, the
dominating and avoidant conflict styles were not related significantly to relationship satisfaction.
Finally, Pistole (1989) found that partners who were highly satisfied with their relationship more
often used the integrating and compromising conflict styles than partners who were less satisfied
with their relationship. As is the case with regard to attachment styles among gifted adults, little is
known so far about the way gifted individuals handle conflicts in their intimate relationships and
the way conflict styles are related to relationship quality among the gifted. The present study
examined gifted individuals’ attachment styles and their relations with relationship quality,
comparing these relationships with those found among other individuals.
CONFLICT STYLES AS MEDIATORS OF THE RELATION
BETWEEN ATTACHMENT STYLES AND RELATIONSHIP
QUALITY
In addition to studying the relations between attachment styles and conflict styles and
relationship quality among the gifted, we also examine a mediation model in which the relationship
between attachment styles and relationship quality is mediated by conflict styles. In other words,
we suggest that attachment styles affect an individual’s style of resolving conflict, which
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subsequently affects relationship quality. In general, it is assumed that attachment styles are
expressed during stressful situations, of which dyadic conflicts are an example. During
interpersonal conflicts individuals’ attachment styles are assumed to be activated and expressed in
the way individuals deal with those conflicts, in other words, in individuals’ conflict styles (e.g.,
Baptist, Thompson, Norton, Hardy, & Link, 2012; Cann, Norman, Welbourne, & Calhoun, 2010;
Pistole & Arricale, 2003; Shi, 2003). These conflict styles may in turn affect the intimate
relationship. Support for a comparable but not similar - mediation model among the non-gifted
has recently been reported by Cann et al. (2010), who found that the relations between the
attachment dimensions of anxiety and avoidance and relationship satisfaction were mediated by
certain conflict styles. For the avoidance dimension, for instance, they found that as participants
were lower on avoidance, they were more likely to use the obliging and integrating styles of
conflict resolution, and less likely to use the dominating style of conflict resolution, which then
predicted greater relationship satisfaction.
Whereas Cann et al. (2010) examined a mediation model using two attachment dimensions
as independent variables, the present study examined the four attachment styles distinguished by
Bartholomew and Horowitz (1991) as independent variables. Although the use of dimensions of
attachment, rather than attachment styles, may have its advantages, in this case we find the
distinction between four attachment styles clearer and more informative than the use of two
attachment dimensions, particularly because no studies have yet examined the prevalence of these
four attachment styles among gifted adults.
THE PRESENT STUDY
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As noted before, intellectually gifted adults are not easy to identify. As early as Fogel,
1968, therefore, invited researchers in need of gifted participants to consider studying members of
the society of Mensa. Mensa consists of a population of highly intelligent individuals, representing
all levels and fields of endeavor. In order to become member of Mensa, individuals have to score,
on a standardized intelligence test, higher than 98% of the general population. Today, Mensa has
some 100,000 members in 100 countries throughout the world. To date, several scholars have
followed Fogel’s suggestion (e.g., Bessou, Tyrrell, & Yziquel, 2004). The present study did the
same, recruiting members of the Dutch branch of the Mensa society (see also Dijkstra et al., 2012).
In addition, to be better able to interpret our findings among the gifted, we included a control group
of Dutch individuals from the general community who were engaged in an intimate relationship
and who were not identified as gifted. In sum, the present study examined the following research
questions (RQ’s):
 Research Question 1: To what degree do gifted individuals in committed relationships
differ from other individuals in committed relationships in terms of perceived relationship
quality, conflict styles and attachment styles? (RQ 1)
Research Question 2: To what degree are attachment styles, conflict styles and relationship
quality related among gifted individuals in committed relationships? To what extent do the
relationships between these variables differ from those found among other individuals in
committed relationships? (RQ 2)
Research Question 3: To what extent are the relations between attachment styles and
relationship quality mediated by conflict styles? (RQ 3)
METHOD
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Participants and Procedure
The present study was part of a larger study on relationships of the gifted. Gifted
participants were recruited through newsletters of Mensa. Members of Mensa were invited to visit
the website of Mensa, where a link was posted to the present, online study. A condition for
participation was that the potential participant was involved in a committed intimate relationship
at the time of the study, and also a member of Mensa. A total of 196 heterosexual Mensa members
completed all online questionnaires used in the present study: 97 men (age M = 44.0, SD = 10.4,
range 1866) and 99 women (age M = 38.9, SD = 8.6, range 2359). In addition, a heterogeneous
community sample of 145 heterosexual participants (63 men, age M = 50.2, SD = 11.5, range 20
74, and 82 women, age M = 39.6, SD = 9.5, range 1856) was used as control group. Data from
192 participants from the general community (no Mensa members) were initially collected by the
authors by means of online advertisements, but 47 participants had to be removed from this sample
because they had indicated not being in a committed intimate relationship at the time of the study.
As a result, these participants also did not complete all relevant questionnaires (i.e., the relationship
measures). As a control question, the participants from the community sample were asked if they
were a member of Mensa or had otherwise been officially identified as being gifted. This did not
apply to any of the participants from this sample.
In the Mensa sample, 47.1% of the participants had an IQ ranging between 130 and 139,
41.2% an IQ ranging between 140 and 149, and 11.8% an IQ of 150 or higher. For the control
sample, we did not have estimations of IQ available. Educational level in the Mensa sample was
higher than in the control sample: X2(7) = 32.41, p < .001 (see Table 1). In the control sample,
there were clearly more participants with an intermediate vocational education than in the Mensa
sample, whereas in the Mensa sample, there were clearly more participants with a Master’s degree
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or PhD than in the control sample. Based on the mean IQ levels for people with different
educational levels in The Netherlands (e.g., Luteijn & Barelds, 2004), the mean IQ of the control
sample can be estimated to be roughly equal to 108. Although this would be higher than the
population mean of 100, this would still be considerably lower than in the Mensa sample. The
mean overall length of the relationship (both samples combined) was 12 years (SD = 10.4). The
relationship duration was not significantly different between the two samples [univariate F(1,
341) = 0.05, > p]. We also tested whether the distribution of males and females was significantly
different between the two samples. This was not the case [X2(1, 341) = 1.22, > p]. Finally, we
would like to remark that the present study was approved by the ethical committee of the
department of psychology at the University of Groningen.
Instruments
DRQ-20
A 20 item abridged version of the Dutch Relationship Questionnaire (DRQ; Barelds,
Luteijn, & Arrindell, 2003) was used as a measure of relationship quality. The DRQ is a
multidimensional instrument for the assessment of relationship quality (cf. Barelds & Dijkstra,
2009). The full length DRQ consists of 80 true-false items that are distributed over five subscales
(independence, closeness, identity, conflict resolution and sexuality). These subscales can be
summed to obtain an overall relationship quality score. Examples of items are “My partner and I
agree on most things”, and “I am content with our sex life”. For brevity reasons, the present study
used an abridged version of the DRQ, consisting of the 20 items that were found to have the highest
item-remainder correlations in a sample of 332 married or cohabiting participants (Schulz, 2004;
the correlation between the full scale and the abridged version was r = .89). Validity of the DRQ-
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20 was supported by its large correlations with, for example, the Interactional Problem Solving
Inventory (IPSI; Lange, 1983) and the Triangular Love Scale (TLS; Sternberg, 1997). The items
of the DRQ-20 were answered on a five-point scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree).
Cronbach’s alpha of the DRQ-20 in the present study was .86 for the gifted sample and .90 for the
community sample.
RISS
In addition to the DRQ-20, we measured relationship satisfaction by means of the
Relational Interaction Satisfaction Scale (RISS; Buunk, 1990). The eight items of this scale assess
to which extent the interaction with the partner is experienced as being rewarding. An example
item is “I feel happy when I’m with my partner”. Possible answers in the present study range from
1 = never to 5 = very often. In the present study, alpha of the RISS was .91 for the gifted sample,
and .90 for the control sample.
ROCI-II
For the assessment of conflict styles the Rahim Organisational Conflict Inventory-II
(ROCI-II; Rahim, 1983; also see Rahim & Magner, 1995) was used. This scale consists of 28 items
that are answered on a five-point Likert scale. The ROCI-II measures the five styles of handling
interpersonal conflict that were discussed before: Integrating (IN), Obliging (OB), Dominating
(DO), Avoiding (AV), and Compromising (CO). The instrument was originally developed to
measure how an organizational member handles conflicts with his/her supervisor, subordinates, or
peers. The ROCI-II has recently also been used in the context of an intimate relationship. Examples
of items are “I try to investigate an issue with my partner to find a solution acceptable to us” and
“I exchange accurate information with my partner to solve a problem together”. Cronbach’s alphas
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in the present study ranged between .70 (CO) and .89 (AV) for the gifted sample, and between .73
(CO) and .85 (AV) for the community sample.
RQ
For the assessment of attachment styles the Relationship Questionnaire (RQ; Bartholomew
& Horowitz, 1991) was used. The RQ is a single item measure that contains four descriptions of
attachment patterns in adult relationships (secure, fearful, preoccupied, and dismissing).
Participants were asked to indicate on a seven-point scale the extent to which each of these four
descriptions applies to them. In the present study, a version of the RQ was used that refers to
attachment in close relationships. In addition to providing scores regarding the applicability of
each of the four attachment style descriptions, participants also indicated which of the four
descriptions fitted them best. Although we did not intend to measure attachment styles
categorically, answering the latter question should minimize order effects when rating the
applicability of the four attachment styles. We did not use the categorical variable (which was
administered first) for examining the present study’s research questions.
RESULTS
First, to examine whether the Mensa sample differs from the community sample in terms
of perceived relationship quality/satisfaction, conflict styles and attachment styles (RQ 1), the
mean scores on these variables were computed for both groups separately (see Table 2).
Differences were tested by means of analyses of variance. A multivariate significant sample effect
was found [F(11, 327) = 3.19, p < .001]. There were, however, no univariate significant
differences between the two groups with regard to the relationship measures. With regard to
attachment styles and conflict styles, some significant differences were found. The Mensa sample,
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on average, perceived the fearful attachment style to be more applicable to them than the
individuals from the community sample. In addition, the Mensa sample reported engaging less
often in the integrating and compromising, and more often in the avoiding conflict styles. These
were all small to medium effects.1
Next, we examined the relations among attachment styles, conflict styles and relationship
quality and satisfaction (RQ 2). For this purpose, correlations were computed between these
variables separately for the two samples (see Table 3). In addition, to examine whether the
relations found for the Mensa sample are significantly different from the relations found for the
community sample, tests for independent correlations were conducted. The correlations for the
two samples are generally quite similar. There are mostly small correlations between attachment
styles and conflict styles in both groups. With regard to attachment styles and the relationship
variables, several significant relations were found. Strong positive relations were found in both
groups between the integrating conflict style and the relationship measures (r’s .505). The
avoiding conflict style was consistently negatively related to the relationship measures, and quite
consistent positive relations were found in both groups between the compromising conflict style
and the relationship measures.
With regard to the attachment styles and relationship quality/satisfaction, some interesting
differences were found between the two samples. The most striking difference was found with
regard to the fearful attachment style, for which significant and moderate negative relations with
relationship quality/satisfaction were found in the community sample, but not in the Mensa sample.
These correlations were significantly different (p < .01) between the two samples. In addition, in
the Mensa sample, the dismissing attachment style was related () significantly to relationship
quality/satisfaction, whereas in the community sample the preoccupied () and secure (+)
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attachment styles were related significantly to relationship quality/satisfaction. The differences
between these correlations in the two samples were, however, not significant (p > .01).
Finally, we examined whether the relations between attachment styles and relationship
quality/satisfaction are mediated by conflict styles (RQ 3). For this purpose we used the SPSS
macro developed by Preacher and Hayes (2008). All five conflict styles were entered
simultaneously as mediators of the relations between the four attachment styles (entered
separately) and relationship quality/satisfaction. Analyses were conducted separately for the DRQ-
20 and the RISS and for the two samples. Results are summarized in Tables 4a (Mensa sample)
and 4b (community sample). To help interpret the results listed in these tables, Figure 2 shows the
mediation model that was examined.
Significant mediation effects were found in both groups. In the Mensa sample, the conflict
styles significantly and consistently mediated the relations between the dismissing and secure
attachment styles and relationship quality/satisfaction. When looking more closely at the results
for the individual conflict styles, it was found that these mediation effects could be consistently
attributed to the integrating and avoiding conflict styles (for interpretation of these effects see
Table 2). In the control sample from the general community, significant and consistent mediation
effects were found for the relations between fearful and secure attachment and relationship
quality/satisfaction. In these cases, the mediation effect could be consistently attributed to the
integrating and dominating conflict styles. Together, these results show that the relations between
attachment styles and relationship quality/satisfaction are partially mediated by conflict styles in
both samples, but also that the results are slightly different between the two samples.
DISCUSSION
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The present study examined the intimate relations of gifted individuals, comparing them to
the intimate relationships of individuals not identified as gifted. Our first aim was to examine
differences in relationship quality, attachment styles and conflict styles between gifted and non-
gifted individuals. Results showed that on two measures of relationship quality and satisfaction
gifted and non-gifted individuals involved in an intimate relationship did not differ: both reported
about equally satisfying relationships. Both samples did, however, differ in their conflict and
attachment styles. With regard to conflict styles, the gifted sample reported engaging less often in
integrating and compromising, and more often in avoiding. Correlational analyses showed that, in
both groups, integrating and compromising were positively related to relationship quality, whereas
avoiding was negatively related to relationship quality. These findings suggest that gifted
individuals show a somewhat lower ability to constructively deal with conflicts in their intimate
relationship, by engaging relatively little in those conflict styles that help handle conflicts
constructively, and relatively often using a conflict style that may potentially damage their
relationship. A possible explanation for the finding that, relative to others, gifted individuals tend
to avoid conflicts more often, is that, in general, gifted individuals show more intensity in their
feelings (Jacobsen, 1999), and are relatively more emotionally sensitive (Alias, Rahman, Majid,
& Yassin, 2013; Daniels & Piechowski, 2008). In general, high emotional sensitivity is
accompanied by behavioral inhibition, in an attempt to reduce and avoid the stress caused by these
intense feelings (Aron, Aron, & Jagiellowicz, 2012). In the case of a looming conflict this may
cause gifted individuals to avoid the conflict rather than to deal with it openly by, for instance,
integrating and compromising.
Despite the fact that the gifted appeared to handle their conflicts somewhat less
constructively than others, in the present study, relationship quality among the gifted was not lower
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than in the control group. A possible explanation is that the relationships of the gifted benefit from
a relationship source that relationships of other individuals do not benefit from, and that was not
assessed in the present study. This relationship source may compensate the potentially negative
effect of conflict styles on relationship quality. A possibility is that the gifted are more successful
at finding a similar partner, for instance with regard to intelligence. In general, actual and perceived
similarity between partners has been found to be related positively to relationship quality (see for
instance, Russell & Wells, 1991), presumably because similarity promotes shared emotional
experiences, and is accompanied by less disagreement (e.g., Gonzaga, Campos, & Bradbury,
2007). Dijkstra et al. (2012) found that the gifted more highly value high intelligence in a
(potential) partner than other individuals. As a result, the gifted may put more effort in finding a
mate with a similar level of intelligence, resulting in more homogamous relationships. Indirect
evidence for the relatively strong strive for assortative mating among the gifted was found by
Benbow, Zonderman, and Stanley (1983) who studied the parents of the gifted. Since IQ is highly
heritable (e.g., Bouchard, 2004), the parents of the gifted have a relatively high probability also to
have a high IQ. Benbow et al. (1983) found that these parents resembled each other significantly
more than other parents, suggesting a higher level of assortative mating among (parents of) the
gifted. Another explanation is that gifted individuals may indeed less constructively deal with
relationship conflicts when these conflicts occur, but have these conflicts less frequently in their
relationships than other individuals. The relatively scarce conflicts that do occur may have little
impact on their evaluations of their relationships. Indirect evidence that the gifted may experience
fewer conflicts in their relationships was given by Schapiro (2006), in a sample of gifted
adolescents. In this study gifted individuals were found to be more task-oriented than other-
oriented, an orientation that was found to be accompanied by less conflict in their relationships
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18
with peers. In addition, if gifted individuals are indeed more successful when it comes to
assortative mating, they may experience less conflicts and disagreement in their relationship
because of smaller differences in opinion, intelligence, personality and/or lifestyle. Since the
present study did not assess how often individuals experienced conflict in their relationship but
only how they dealt with those conflicts once they occurred, we cannot be certain that gifted
individuals indeed experience less conflicts in their intimate relationships.
Relative to other individuals, the gifted individuals in our sample also perceived the fearful
attachment style to be more applicable to them. In other words, more than the participants from
the community sample, they feared rejection and hurt as a possible consequence of emotional
disclosure and intimacy. A possible explanation may again lie in their relatively high levels of
emotionally sensitivity and excitability (Alias et al., 2013; Daniels & Piechowski, 2008). As a
consequence, gifted individuals may feel threatened more easily and experience fear in response
to situations that involve emotional intimacy. In line with previous studies, the present study found
moderate relations between fearful attachment and relationship quality among participants from
the community sample. Among the gifted, however, this was not the case: as gifted individuals
were more fearfully attached, they did not report lower relationship quality. This finding suggests
that the higher levels of fearful attachment among the gifted are not (necessarily) problematic with
regard to relationship quality, as it is among other individuals. A possible explanation is that the
gifted have learned to cope with their emotional sensitivities and fears, among which their fear of
emotional intimacy, and that, as a consequence, their fear of emotional intimacy no longer directly
affects the quality of their relationship. This does not mean, however, that fearful attachment does
not affect relationship quality at all. It still may do so in an indirect way.
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19
To more accurately examine the relations between conflict styles, attachment styles and
relationship quality we also tested a mediation model. More specifically, we examined the extent
to which the relations between attachment styles and relationship quality would be mediated by
conflict styles, separately for gifted individuals and individuals from the community sample.
Among the gifted the relationship between the dismissive and the secure attachment styles on the
one hand and relationship quality on the other hand was mediated by conflict styles. In other words,
whereas the dismissive attachment style negatively affected relationship quality by leading
individuals to engage in less constructive conflict styles (particularly less integrating and more
avoiding), the secure attachment style positively affected relationship quality by leading
individuals to engage in the more constructive conflict styles (particularly more integrating and
less avoiding). Among participants from the community sample a somewhat different patter
emerged. A secure attachment style positively affected relationship quality through more
constructive conflict styles (particularly more integrating and less dominating), which is quite
comparable to what was found for the gifted. In addition, however, the fearful attachment style
negatively affected relationship quality in the community sample, through the use of less
constructive conflict styles (particularly less integrating and more dominating). It must be noted,
however, that in this sample (in most cases) the relations between attachment styles and
relationship quality were only partially mediated by conflict styles.
Overall, it must be noted that many relations between relationship quality, conflict styles
and attachment styles were quite similar for the gifted group and for the community sample. Only
the relations between fearful attachment and relationship quality differed significantly between the
two samples. It therefore seems that the two samples show more similarities than differences with
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20
regard to relationship processes that involve conflict styles, attachment styles and relationship
quality.
Strengths, Limitations and Future Research
The present study is the first to study the role of conflict styles and attachment styles in the
intimate relationships of gifted individuals, and therefore contributes to our knowledge on
giftedness, the processes that play a role in the intimate relationships of gifted individuals and on
potential strengths and weaknesses of these relationships. A first and important limitation of the
present study is that members of Mensa are probably not representative of the total population of
gifted adults. A strength of the present study however was that the Mensa sample was quite
heterogeneous (in terms of age, relationship duration, and educational level), and that the present
study also included a community sample that facilitated the interpretation of our findings among
the gifted. Nonetheless, future studies need to cross validate our findings, ideally in a
representative population of gifted adults. Future studies may also investigate why fearful
attachment seems to play a different role in the intimate relationships of the gifted, and what factors
may cause the relationships of the gifted to be as good as they are, despite gifted individuals’
inclination to engage less often in those conflict styles that may benefit their relationship,
particularly the integrating and compromising styles. Uncovering the factors that, both in negative
and positive ways, affect the intimate relationships of the gifted, may help relationship counselors
develop counseling strategies that more closely meet the needs of gifted individuals and the
problems they experience in their intimate relationships. In addition, insight in the strengths of
gifted individuals’ relationships may uncover unique relationship-enhancing processes, that may
inspire relationship counselors to develop new techniques or interventions for helping enhance
non-gifted couples’ relationship functioning. In conclusion, we hope that future studies will further
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21
explore the intimate relationships of the gifted, a group of people that, in our opinion, deserves
more attention from researchers than it has received to date.
Note
1Because the two samples differed in their educational level, we also conducted an
additional MANOVA in which educational level was entered as an additional between subjects
variable. The multivariate main effect of educational level was not significant, nor was the sample
x educational level interaction (Fs < 1.20, ps ≥ .139). We therefore only report the results that are
not controlled for educational level.
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Table 1. Educational level of the two samples
Mensa
Control
Lower vocational education
0.5%
0.0%
Intermediate vocational
education
5.6%
24.1%
Higher general secondary
education
7.7%
11.0%
Pre-university secondary
education
6.1%
6.2%
Higher vocational education
34.2%
31.7%
University Bachelor degree
5.6%
5.5%
University Master degree
31.6%
16.6%
PhD
8.7%
4.8%
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26
Table 2. Means and standard deviations for attachment styles, conflict styles and relationship
ratings for the mensa sample and the control sample
Mensa
M
SD
M
SD
F(1,
340)
p
η2
Attachment style
Dismissing
4.21
1.93
4.16
2.02
.06
.811
.00
Preoccupied
3.57
1.74
3.74
1.75
.79
.374
.00
Fearful
3.89
1.86
3.38
1.93
6.14
.014
.02
Secure
5.28
1.62
5.26
1.61
.01
.910
.00
Conflict style
Integrating
27.37
5.33
29.65
4.20
18.13
.000
.05
Avoiding
15.48
6.21
13.18
5.36
12.78
.000
.04
Dominating
15.08
4.18
15.06
4.47
.00
.963
.00
Obliging
19.05
4.08
18.50
3.89
1.57
.212
.01
Compromising
13.42
2.85
14.41
2.98
9.80
.002
.03
Relationship ratings
RISS
28.57
5.19
29.00
5.01
.60
.439
.00
DRQ20
14.78
4.45
15.48
4.76
1.95
.163
.01
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27
Table 3. Correlations between attachment styles, conflict styles and relationship ratings for the
mensa sample and the control sample
Dismi
ssing
Preocc
upied
Fea
rful
Sec
ure
Integr
ating
Avoi
ding
Domi
nating
Obli
ging
Compro
mising
RIS
S
DR
Q20
Attachment style
Dismiss
ing
1
.211
.09
3
.10
5
.072
.069
.173
.12
0
.155
.1
09
.0
84
Preoccu
pied
.322
*
1
.17
9
.2
08
.166
.142
.046
.202
.145
.2
36*
.2
61*
Fearful
.038
.113
1
.4
13*
.148
.213
.237*
.203
.025
.3
61*
.3
37*
Secure
.067
.056
.4
46*
1
.161
.15
5
.164
.00
5
.018
.25
9*
.278
*
Conflict style
Integrati
ng
.169
.005
.0
97
.15
9
1
.43
2*
.014
.146
.377*
.55
8*
.608
*
Avoidin
g
.195*
.072
.24
5*
.1
90*
.419
*
1
.080
.253
*
.031
.2
68*
.3
80*
Domina
ting
.176
.017
.1
15
.00
6
.031
.07
7
1
.090
.002
.2
17*
.2
71*
Obligin
g
.099
.175
.14
1
.0
71
.129
.348
*
.177
1
.261*
.04
3
.0
49
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28
Compro
mising
.067
.028
.0
21
.15
0
.513*
.00
1
.085
.132
1
.19
5
.236
*
Relationship ratings
RISS
.209
*
.059
.0
08
.15
7
.505*
.33
1*
.174
.096
.267*
1
.793
*
DRQ20
.188
*
.080
.0
44
.17
6
.519*
.47
9*
.110
.10
1
.204*
.76
0*
1
Correlations for the Mensa sample below the diagonal, correlations for the control sample above
the diagonal. Correlations in bold are significantly different (p < .01) between samples (tests for
independent correlations).
*p < .01
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29
Table 4a. Mediation analyses results for the mensa sample
c
p
c'
p
ab
p
95% CI*
RISS
Dismissing
.563
.003
.181
.290
.382
.001
.714,
.175
Preoccupied
.177
.409
.192
.296
.014
.910
.233,
.288
Fearful
.021
.916
.157
.373
.178
.146
.439,
.081
Secure
.505
.029
.177
.379
.328
.014
.089,
.683
DRQ20
Dismissing
.432
.009
.116
.410
.317
.003
.537,
.122
Preoccupied
.204
.268
.122
.417
.082
.474
.288,
.141
Fearful
.106
.539
.161
.262
.268
.017
.553,
.043
Secure
.483
.014
.142
.388
.342
.005
.090,
.624
*The confidence interval applies to the bootstrap estimates of the ab paths.
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30
Table 4b. Mediation analyses results for the control sample
c
p
c'
p
ab
p
95% CI*
RISS
Dismissing
.270
.193
.096
.588
.174
.182
.461,
.064
Preoccupied
.675
.004
.418
.042
.257
.084
.613,
.039
Fearful
.936
.000
.668
.000
.269
.041
.552,
.031
Secure
.806
.002
.444
.042
.362
.018
.059,
.742
DRQ20
Dismissing
.198
.315
.006
.972
.204
.141
.521,
.089
Preoccupied
.709
.002
.349
.051
.360
.020
.656,
.049
Fearful
.833
.000
.437
.007
.396
.004
.667,
.121
Secure
.824
.001
.415
.029
.409
.012
.088,
.779
*The confidence interval is for the bootstrap estimates of the ab paths.
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31
Figure 1. Conflict styles according to Rahim (1983).
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32
Figure 2. Model of conflict styles as mediators of the relations between attachment styles and
relationship quality/satisfaction.
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... This is particularly alarming when considering that intellectually gifted adults' meaning in life predicted their subjective well-being in a longitudinal study [24]. A broad body of studies with intellectually gifted persons suggests a similar tendency for psychosocial issues, such as a vulnerability for affective disorders and immune-related diseases [25], identity problems, compulsivity [26], a low sense of coherence [27], a fearful attachment style [28], and the perception of being different [29]. ...
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Article
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Meaning in life is positively associated with mental and physical health, while a crisis of meaning is a painful existential state that is defined as a perceived lack of meaning. An earlier study has shown that academically high-achieving adults mostly experience existential fulfilment, while intellectually gifted adults have a disproportionally high risk of suffering from a crisis of meaning, which can weaken their potential fulfilment in life. To uncover the underlying mechanisms of how an existential crisis affects gifted adults’ mental health, this study examines the longitudinal relationship between crisis of meaning and subjective well-being via two mediators: self-control and resilience. A multiple mediation model was tested with longitudinal data (two times of measurement) of two gifted groups: intellectually gifted adults (HIQ; N = 100; 55% female) and academically high-achieving adults (HAA; N = 52; 29% female). Results suggest group differences: HIQ had higher crisis of meaning and lower self-control than the HAA. HIQ’s resilience (but not their self-control) and HAA’s self-control (but not their resilience) mediated the relationship between crisis of meaning and subjective well-being. These findings give initial insights about the distinct psychological needs of gifted adults and their different paths toward subjective well-being. These insights can be applied in future giftedness research, talent development programs, or counseling to support gifted individuals in living up to their potential. Thus, HIQ could benefit particularly from supporting their ability to cope with adversity, while HAA could benefit particularly from strengthening their willpower to modify undesired emotions, behaviors, and desires.
... Studies have extensively documented how adaptive conflict negotiation prevents relationship dissolution and promotes relationship satisfaction in adults (Bertoni & Bodenmann, 2010;Dijkstra et al., 2017;Fincham & Beach, 2010;Roberson et al., 2015;Scheeren et al., 2014). A recent study examined the associations between conflict negotiation strategies and relationship satisfaction in adolescents. ...
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Achieving healthy and satisfying sexual relationships is a major developmental task in adolescence, but factors promoting sexual satisfaction among adolescent romantic relationships remain underexplored. Since sexuality is shaped by relational experiences, strategies mobilized to negotiate conflicts in romantic relationships could be related to sexual satisfaction through comfort in negotiating sexual experiences. Sexual comfort refers to the ease of discussing sexuality, and feeling comfortable with one's own sexual life and with others' sexual behaviors. This cross-sectional dyadic study examined the mediating role of sexual comfort in the associations between perceived conflict negotiation strategies and sexual satisfaction among adolescent romantic dyads. The actor-partner interdependence model guided the analyses of self-reported questionnaires from 104 mixed- and same-sex dyads (Mage = 18.99 years, SD = 1.51). An adolescent's higher compromise and lower submission were related to their own higher sexual satisfaction via their own higher sexual comfort. The results also revealed a direct association between an adolescent's higher domination and their own lower sexual satisfaction. These findings underscore the importance of considering conflict negotiation strategies and sexual comfort as key factors related to adolescents' sexual satisfaction.
... Mientras que el apego ha sido muy analizado en los menores AA, no ocurre lo mismo con el alumnado NEAE por AACC (Dijkstra et al., 2017;Fernández-Molina, 2011;Wellisch, 2010). Los niños que, especialmente durante los 3 primeros años de vida, han sido institucionalizados o maltratados, que han vivido rupturas sucesivas con su figura de referencia afectiva o cuando esta presentaba falta de disponibilidad o inestabilidad, pueden desarrollar trastorno de apego o una mayor prevalencia de apego inseguro (Ainsworth y Bell, 1969;Bowlby, 1969Bowlby, /1982Muela et al., 2012;Stronach et al., 2011;Van den Dries et al., 2009;Van Londen et al., 2007;Wilkins, 2012). ...
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... According to the theoretical perspectives, it has been argued that gifted adults are motivated towards "social subjects" such as moral thought and social justice. Moreover, it has been observed that their increased level of intelligence is associated with moral development (Dijkstra et al., 2017). ...
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... Although the gifted educational literature is redundant in information and studies on children and adolescents, there is a shortage of gifted adults' studies. Only very few have explicitly explored well-being (Perrone-McGovern et al. 2011;Dijkstra, Barelds, Ronner, & Nauta, 2017;Pollett & Schnell, 2017). (Diener et al. 1985, p.72). ...
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... The correction of translation was made by Žardeckaitė-Matulaitienė (2011). Although this inventory was developed for measuring conflicts among the members of organization, it is widely used in various contexts, including the field of romantic relationships (Dijkstra, Barelds, Ronner, & Nauta, 2017;Nadiri & Khalatbari, 2018;Farahanifar, Heidari, Davodi, & Aleyasin, 2019). Rahim Organizational Conflict Inventory -II consists of 28 items which participants were asked to respond on a Likert scale from 1 "strongly disagree" to 5 "strongly agree". ...
... In general, our finding support both attachment-emergent distress and attachment-disillusionment models of relationship dissatisfaction; features of emergent distress and disillusionment accounts served as partial mediators of the relations between satisfaction with partner and avoidant/anxious attachment. Across both integrative models within each gender, avoidant attachment had a significant association with relationship satisfaction while anxious attachment did not, consistent with Dijkstra, Barelds, Ronner, and Nauta (2016). In line with prior assumptions, we found that the integrative models of the disillusionment model and enduring dynamics model applied to Chinese dating partners. ...
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