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Current Issues in Personality Psychology
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Original paper

Creative attitude in a group of youths gifted in the domain of science subjects

Monika Sztolpa
1
,
Aleksandra Lewandowska-Walter
1
,
Małgorzata Lipowska
1

1.
Institute of Psychology, University of Gdansk, Gdansk, Poland
Current Issues in Personality Psychology, 4(2), 97-105
Online publish date: 2016/05/05
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Background

The concept of giftedness

The issue of giftedness – its genesis, structure, and underlying mechanisms – is of interest to many theorists and practitioners. Many conceptions and models of giftedness have emerged as a result of research. Models of general giftedness usually equate giftedness with general intelligence (Gardner, 2002; Kaufman & Sternberg, 2008; Nęcka, 2003; Sternberg & Davidson, 2005; Ziegler & Heller, 2000) or multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1983, 2002). On the other hand, the domain-specific conception of giftedness assumes that the development of a person is associated with many domains and areas of activity (Limont, 2012; Rinn & Plucker, 2004; Tannenbaum, 2003), due to which talents may develop even in narrow domains. Again, systemic models treat giftedness as a structure of elements that are interconnected and interact with each other (Freeman, 2010; Limont, 2012; Saha, 2012; Sękowski, 2013). Such elements include cognitive abilities, directional skills, creativity, personality and motivation to undertake an activity.

The tree-ring conception of giftedness

One of the more interesting and frequently used systemic conceptions of giftedness is the tree-ring conception of giftedness developed by Renzulli (Renzulli, 1978; Renzulli & Reis, 2000), which serves as the basis of the present study. The author, and the researchers who would later further develop the model, assume that when identifying an individual as gifted, one needs to take into account all of the included elements. The first ring describes characteristics that are associated with being absorbed in an activity or task (Renzulli, 1978), understood as motivation to undertake an activity (Mönks, 2008; Rinn, 2012; Subotnik, Olszewski-Kubilius, & Worrell, 2011), deep concentration on the task, and a state of extraordinary engagement and forgetting oneself – having flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996), or striving for excellence and feeling positive emotions in task situations perceived as challenges.
Above-average general giftedness, understood either as high intellectual potential (based on the results of intelligence tests), which has particular importance in the process of learning at school and drawing conclusions (Nęcka, 2003; Pfeiffer, 2012; Reis & McCoach, 2000), or as specific directional talents, which may appear in all possible disciplines (Limont, 2012; Lohman, 2005; Worrell, Olszewski-Kubilius, & Subotnik, 2012), is an important element of the model. The third ring of the model includes general creativity, which is currently considered in terms of fluency, elasticity and originality of thinking (Amabile, 1996; Guilford, 1978; Nęcka, 2002), openness to new experiences, cognitive curiosity (Strzałecki, 2003), preference for risk in thinking and acting, attention to detail and feelings (Lewis, 1998), focusing on finding a solution, elasticity in combining data and elaboration (Urban, 1996, 2000, cf: Matczak, Jaworowska, & Stańczak, 2000).

Multifactor Model

The Multifactor Model of giftedness by Franz J. Mönks (1990) is an extension of the above model. Mönks concluded that a person excelling is always the result of the aforementioned elements and the influence of the student’s social environment (family, peers, school), which may both stimulate and inhibit the development of talents (Popek, 2001; Ziegler & Heller, 2000) and personality (Dyrda, 2000; Freiman, 2006; Siekańska & Sękowski, 2008). In terms of personality, creative behaviours and attitudes are believed to play a significant role (Maslow, 1983; Mumford, Scott, Gaddis, & Strange, 2002; Popek, 2008), assuming interplay between the motivational-emotional and cognitive functions (Popek, 2008, Subotnik et al., 2011). According to research, individuals characterised by such an attitude are independent, introverted, subjective and maladapted in terms of psychological definitions, but well adapted to work and socially valuable (Strzałecki, 2003). Moreover, they are characterised by specific attributes of social adaptation as well as by constructive nonconformity (Popek, 2001).

Gifted students

Gifted students are also characterised by specific cognitive and personality properties. Their broad knowledge and intelligence (Pfeiffer, 2012; Reis & McCoach, 2000), directional talents and interests (Lohman, 2005; Worrell et al., 2012) as well as creativity (Limont, 2012; Popek, 2001) are often mentioned. Emotional-motivational features are also important (Gottfried, Gottfried, Cook & Morris, 2005; Rinn, 2012). Such students show initiative and originality in their intellectual work, are inquisitive, have an independent attitude and take risks to pursue their passions (Subotnik et al., 2011). They also have the ability to defend their beliefs and ideas (Dyrda, 2000; Limont, 2012).
Research also provides data about characteristics in the area of creative attitude, especially the domain of motivation (defined on the conformity-nonconformity continuum) and the role of teachers in its development (Sokol, Gozdek, & Figurska, 2015). A non-conforming student exhibits independent thinking and acting (based on their own system of values), they bravely take on cognitive and social challenges, and they have positive personality energy that stimulates their potential activity in the cognitive domain as well as their behaviour (Bernacka & Misiuda-Kolejko, 2008; Popek, 2001, 2008). In contrast, a conformist has a tendency towards submissiveness to expectations and external pressures, and adapts their behaviour and way of thinking to the expected standards, which hinders their activity in both the cognitive and the behavioural domains (Bernacka, 2008).
Students exhibiting talents in the area of science are diverse, and so an individual approach is necessary in their education (Bicknell, 2009). They often show early cognitive curiosity, the ability to generalise, a facility with numbers, and the ability to discover logical principles (Wieczerkowski, Cropley, & Prado, 2000). They are shown to be able to shorten the inference process as well as possessing elasticity and flexibility (the ability to switch between operations) of mental processes, and ability in symbolic thinking (Diezmann & Watters, 2000). The skill of creative reasoning has also been observed (Renzulli, 2005), although it does not fully correspond to creativity in other disciplines, due to the nature of science subjects (Milgram & Livne, 2005, in: Chamberlin & Moon, 2005). Such students often seek the most economic solutions, develop their own heuristics, and quickly see schemata and relationships between objects (Chamberlin & Moon, 2005; Miller, 1990); they are fast learners and are quick to understand tasks. In terms of personality, they exhibit lower levels of anxiety (Saricam & Ogurlu, 2015), they have a tendency for critical thinking and non-conformism, and their self-regulation abilities are better (Tortop, 2015).

Identifying talents in students

It is believed that teachers have a particular role in the process of identifying talents or giftedness (Renzulli & Reiss, 2000). Reviewing the literature shows that there is no single criterion according to which one can qualify a student as gifted (Cieślikowska, 2008; Tokarz, 2005), and no single feature is a clear indicator of giftedness. Students are mainly distinguished by their scores on intelligence tests (Callahan, Moon, & Oh, 2013; Deary, Strand, Smith, & Fernandes, 2007; Gottfried, Gottfried, Bathurst, & Guerin, 1994). Specific personality features and behaviours of a student are taken into account (Limont, 2012; Popek, 2001). An often-used approach to identify gifted students is to think in terms of the interactional nature of talents, including creativity (Morgan, Latham, & Shifflet, 2009; Ledzińska, 2010; Limont, 2012; Sękowski, 2013; Renzulli, 2005). Moreover, it has been shown that talents must be analysed in the context of actual cultural background (Csikszentmihalyi & Robinson, 1990; Szymanski & Shaff, 2013). Ledzińska (2010) proposed a holistic approach to identifying gifted individuals, which takes into account both the external environment that constitutes the context for talent development as well as the richness of the internal environment. This study attempted to assess whether students identified by their teachers as gifted in the domain of science are indeed characterised by higher intelligence and creativity than other students. Moreover, we investigated their personality features, which are an indicator of their attitude – creative or reproductive – in the cognitive and motivational spheres. Identification as gifted would qualify students for further forms of systemic support within the “Zdolni z Pomorza” (Polish for: The Talented from the Pomeranian Region) programme1.

Participants and procedure

Participants

Ninety-seven secondary school students took part in the study – 32 girls and 65 boys aged between 13 and 17 (M = 15.79, SD = 1.24). There were no gender differences in terms of level of education (χ2(1) = .33, p = .565, φ = .08).

Procedure and measures

Students who were identified by their teachers as gifted in the areas of mathematics, informatics or physics were assessed. Teachers were given a two-hour training session to prepare them to identify students gifted in the areas of mathematics, programming and physics, and were then asked to identify such students. Apart from cognitive skills and directional talents, the teachers’ attention was brought to features such as innovativeness, undertaking additional activities and extracurricular classes as well as signs of creative thinking and creative attitude.
Two diagnostic methods were used to assess cognitive skills. The level of intellectual functioning was assessed using a battery of tests for diagnosing intelligence APIS-P (Matczak, Jaworowska, Ciechanowska, Stańczak, & Zalewska, 2005), which allows the calculation of a general score that indicates the levels of crystallised intelligence, while taking into account the component skills: social skills, visuo-spatial skills, verbal skills and abstract-logical skills. In order to complement the diagnosis of intellectual potential, we also used Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices test (1991), which assesses the ability to reason correctly, relatively independently of experience, defined as the ability to infer about relations and to create non-verbal concepts based on perceptiveness and logical thinking.
The creativity of the students was assessed using Urban-Jellen’s Test for Creative Thinking – Drawing Production (TCT-DP) (2000). The participants’ creations were judged with regard to fluency, originality, the ability to elaborate and synthesize, nonconformity, and readiness to take risks as well as sense of humour and emotional engagement.
The Creative Behaviour Questionnaire (KANH), adapted by Popek (2008) was used to identify a creative attitude, complementing the assessment of creativity with personality factors. The test assumes that a creative attitude is primarily composed of two domains of human functioning: cognitive and characterological. Within the cognitive domain, it suggests a broader approach than assessments made just in terms of IQ. Sensitivity and perceptivity, memory (mainly processing and producing new information), imagination, intuition and divergent thinking are also taken into account. Based on their responses, a subject is qualified as exhibiting algorithmic (reconstructive attitude) or heuristic (creative attitude) behaviours. On the other hand, the characterological domain is a set of features that ensure the fulfilment of potential capabilities, considered in two dimensions: conformism (a characteristic of the non-creative attitude) and non-conformism (characteristic of the creative attitude).

Results

The first analysis served to answer the question of whether students nominated by their teachers are characterised by above-average levels of intelligence and creativity (relative to the population of students). In order to answer this question, we conducted a one-sample t-test comparing the mean score in the sample to the population average (5.50). The results are presented in Table 1. The analysis revealed that students nominated by their teachers had significantly higher scores for general intelligence (t(96) = 11.72, p < .001) and creativity (t(96) = 10.73, p < .001) when compared to the average for this population.
Next we checked whether different character features comprising the creative and reconstructive attitudes differentiate the nominated students from the general population. The results of the analysis suggest that, in comparison to the general population, students identified as gifted rank higher in the cognitive domain (t(96) = 3.81, p < .001). They exhibit significantly more heuristic type behaviours in this domain (t(96) = 3.89, p < .001). Higher than average results were also observed in the motivational domain (t(96) = 2.36, p = .001), both in terms of nonconformity and conformity.
As there was substantial variability in the results of the students nominated by their teachers in the tests assessing their intellectual potential, we subdivided them into two groups based on these results: those that scored high on tests assessing general intelligence and those with average scores. Subsequent analysis investigated whether these two groups of students differ in the personality features that are indicators of a creative attitude (Table 2).
The results indicate that students who scored high in the general intelligence test are characterised by a more creative attitude (t(95) = –2.55, p = .012) within the cognitive domain (t(95) = –2.65, p = .009) and the motivational domain (t(95) = –3.14, p = .002). They choose heuristic behaviours more often (t(95) = –2.58, p = .011) and are characterised by greater nonconformism (t(95) = –2.60, p = .011).
The level of creativity was also used as a differentiating factor, and it was investigated whether it differentiates the students in terms of the same features (Table 3). However, no significant differences were observed here.
The next stage was to verify whether students qualified to receive further forms of talent support are characterised by higher levels of creativity and intelligence than those who had not qualified and to find out how the creative attitude personality features differentiate them (Table 4).
The chosen qualification criteria mainly assumed that they would score high or higher than average on a general intelligence test. An independent samples t-test was performed to verify the hypothesis that students who qualified for further support are characterised by higher creativity. The results suggest that such students were characterised by significantly higher levels of creativity (t(95) = –3.54, p = .001). At the same time, they showed higher levels of nonconformity (t(95) = –2.01, p = .024) in the motivational domain, but no differences were observed for conformity. In the cognitive domain they would choose to use heuristic actions more frequently (t(95) = –1.45, p = .076). No significant differences were observed between the general reproductive and creative attitude, but a statistical trend exhibiting a creative attitude was observed in the students who qualified (t(95) = –1.81, p = .074).

Discussion and conclusions

Research carried out in Polish schools suggests that high intelligence and above average academic achievements (expressed in terms of grades) (Ćwiok, 2000; Gajda, 2015), together with a lack of behavioural problems, are still the main indicators for identification of gifted students. A student assessed as gifted and exemplary is successful, has a positive attitude towards rules, is open to new things, is hard working (Tokarz & Słabosz, 2001), learns quickly and effectively and has excellent achievements in the socially valuable domain of activity (Tyszkowa, 1990). Our results show that students scoring high in general intelligence tests are indeed assessed as gifted.
Research analysing the ability of teachers to identify the signs of creativity among students indicates that teachers have difficulties identifying creative students (Gralewski & Karwowski, 2013; Matrič & Duh, 2015) due to, amongst other reasons, the fact that students do not always have the opportunity or the will to show signs of such skills at school (Morgan, Latham, & Shifflet, 2009). Some features regarded by teachers as indicative of a ‘bad’ student are also characteristic of creativity, which is why such students can be overlooked in the process of nomination (Limont, 2012). In setting out to perform this study, however, we envisaged that teachers who would have had first received training in recognising creativity would use their newfound knowledge when nominating students for the gifted group. Our results confirmed this assumption, as it was revealed that the nominated students were characterised by significantly higher levels of creativity, in comparison to the general population. This is in line with previous research, according to which teachers can acquire the competences needed to identify creativity (Morgan et al., 2009; Jurisevic, 2011, after: Matrič & Duh, 2015), which suggests the importance of highlighting the need to train teachers in this area.
The results also revealed that students identified by teachers as gifted were characterised by higher indices of creative attitude in the cognitive domain, which define one’s intellectual disposition and sensitivity, perceptiveness, as well as memorising, processing and producing new information. They exhibit significantly more heuristic type behaviours, including independent observations, creative imagination, logical memory, divergent thinking, both reconstructive and independent learning, learning through understanding, intellectual elasticity, cognitive activity and reflectiveness – which is in line with previous research on mathematically gifted students (cf. Miller, 1990; Chamberlin & Moon, 2005). Above average results were also observed in the motivational sphere, defined as a set of characterological features ensuring the active fulfilment of the potential cognitive possibilities of an individual, but with no significant differences between the conforming and nonconforming behaviours. It can be concluded that teachers appreciate the motivation of students to undertake additional activities, but they do not concentrate on nonconformist behaviours (independence, adaptational elasticity, originality, spontaneity, self-criticism), because these features may cause more behavioural and adaptational problems, undesirable to teachers (Siekańska, 2013).
In agreement with the model of giftedness that served as a basis for this study, the criteria for students to qualify for further developmental support included high intellectual potential, increased levels of creativity and motivation to undertake additional activities. All these elements were confirmed by the study results. Students who eventually qualified for further support were additionally characterised by higher results in the characterological creative attitude. In contrast to the group nominated by teachers, they exhibited more variability in the motivational domain, scoring higher in terms of nonconformity, and in the cognitive domain they more frequently chose heuristic behaviours. The goal of providing further support to the students is to encourage them to undertake innovative activities in a chosen field, which is why features defining a creative attitude, such as heuristic and nonconformist behaviours, are highly valued. The fact that higher levels of these features were observed in the group of qualified students leads us to the conclusion that the criteria developed for identifying giftedness are appropriate.
Analysis of the literature on the topic, as well as this current research, allows one to estimate that about 2-3% of the population are characterised by exceptional talent (Renzulli, 2005), and about 13% of the population qualify as very talented (Foryś, 2014; Freeman, 2010; Limont, 2012). In order to decrease the chance of failing to identify and include in additional programmes students who are gifted, but who have difficulties (Dyrda, 2000; Reis & McCoach, 2000; Rimm, 2000), as well as to avoid excessive inclusion of students in the gifted group due to only analysing test results (Callahan et al., 2013) and school achievements (McBee, Peters, & Waterman, 2014), it is worthwhile suggesting to teachers a procedure of identification of talents that involves not only psychometric criteria (results of standardised tests) but also teachers’ nominations, analyses of students’ creations and their interest in a given topic. One should not underestimate the importance of raising teachers’ sensitivity to creativity, which is grounded in this study’s results.

Endnotes

1 Pomorskie – dobry kurs na edukację. Wspieranie uczniów o szczególnych predyspozycjach w zakresie matematyki, fizyki i informatyki [Pomeranian region – a good direction for education. Supporting students with particular predispositions for mathematics, physics and informatics]

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