Realising potential: investigating the life stories of gifted New Zealand adults
Moltzen, R. (2005). Realising potential: investigating the life stories of gifted New Zealand adults (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10289/10694
Permanent Research Commons link: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/10694
The aim of this study was to better understand the development of talent across the lifespan by examining the life stories of a group of gifted New Zealand adults. Twenty-eight high achievers participated in this study, representing the following seven broad domains of talent: logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and business-entrepreneurial. This study involved a pre-selection process, where experts in each of the seven talent domains nominated four living New Zealanders who they considered had achieved to the highest level in their field. From these nominations, invitations to participate were extended to the four most frequently nominated individuals in each of the seven domains. Life history inquiry was considered the most appropriate methodology to meet the aim of this research. This involved individual, face-to-face interviews, best described as 'guided conversations'. Consistent with a life history approach, interviewees were accorded a significant degree of control over the direction and the focus of the interviews. However, the researcher had identified beforehand some broad themes he wished to pursue in all interviews, including: participants' ascriptions of their achievements, the influence of parents, family and home, educational experiences, and participants' social and emotional development. One of the most significant findings from this study was that high achievers, irrespective of the domain of achievement, have developed the traits conducive to the realisation of potential. Consistent with numerous other studies, the attributes of drive, persistence, perseverance, hard work and self-discipline appear to be essential to achieving highly. While almost all the individuals who were included in this study showed early evidence of above average general intelligence, and while many displayed precocity in a particular domain, it was their high levels of motivation and task commitment, more than any natural ability, which distinguished them from their peers. The childhood homes of the participants varied considerably, but poverty was more common than privilege. Few could be classified as having an advantaged childhood and the experience of early adversity was relatively common. As a group, their parents, while not highly educated, valued learning and education and provided opportunities for their children to engage with ideas. The family homes of most were environments where a love of books and a love of reading was modelled and encouraged. Few could recall anything of great significance from primary school, but their recollections of high school were much more acute. The most positive accounts of high school came from those who attended schools where high achievement, particularly in academic subjects, was encouraged and valued. Those who provided the most negative recollections of schools were the creators, some of whom said that they failed to fit in at school. In fact marginalisation, both in childhood and adulthood was the experience of many. Some of the participants believed that as children and adolescents they were more emotionally sensitive and emotionally intense than their peers, and some said that they seemed to have a greater concern about issues of social justice than most others in their age group. While some of the conditions that support talent development seem universal, there was some evidence from this study that talent develops differently in different domains. The most notable differences appear to be between those who had made their names in the more creative domains, such as art, writing, and to a lesser extent music, and those who had achieved in the other domains. This study links closely to other retrospective studies of gifted adults, although there are some findings unique to this study, the majority of which may be explained by socio-cultural factors. Consistent with other retrospective studies, there are numerous areas of difference between the results of this study and the findings from longitudinal studies of gifted children.
University of Waikato
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