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human motivation article notes

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McGill University
PSYC 471
Richard Koestner

Motivation Article #9: The Origins and Ends of Giftedness Gifted children and prodigies display near-adult level skills and interests. Winner argues that the indirect evidence suggests that many gifted children and savants have enhanced right-hemisphere development, concomitant language- related difficulties and autoimmune disorders. 1) Origins and Causes of Giftedness a) The Disputed Role of Training Most people in our culture subscribe to the nativist view of giftedness, in which giftedness is believed to be a product of inborn high ability. Psychologists argue that giftedness is entirely a product of what is referred to as goal-directed hard work, or deliberate practice. Ericsson et al showed that levels of expertise relate directly with the amount of deliberate practice. They discounted as unreliable anecdotal reports about the childhood feats of prodigies. Ericsson and Faivre argue that savants work obsessively in their area of ability and it is the countless hours they spend drawing, doing mental calculation or playing an instrument that have led to the suggestion that the savant’s skills are the product of deliberate practice. Csikszentmihalyi, Gardner and Gruber show that all great achievement is associated with years of deep and prolonged work. Bloom showed that eminent adults in a variety of domains did not achieve high levels of performance without a long and intensive period of training. Their training began in early childhood with warm and loving teachers, who were then supplanted by more demanding and rigorous master teachers. Winner points out that a careful look at Bloom’s work reveals that the descriptions of these eminent individuals as children shows that at a very young age, prior to any regimen of training or deliberate practice, signs of unusual ability were present. The musicians were described as quick to learn the piano and both their parents and their teachers recognized they were special. Thus, Bloom’s work allows us to conclude only that intensive training is necessary for the acquisition of expertise; it does not sufficiently explain children’s high level of achievement. Winner also believes that those children who have the most ability are also more likely to be those who are most interested in a particular activity, who begin to work at that activity at an early age, and who work the hardest at it. Ericsson’s research demonstrated the importance of hard work but did not rule out the role of innate ability. Winner shows that the claim that savants achieve their astonishing level of performance because they have practised their skill for countless hours leaves unexplained the fact that, like gifted children, savants show extremely high abilities right from the start, before they have spent much time working at their gift. In addition, this claim cannot explain why savants are found only in domains that are highly rule governed and structured rather than in looser domains such as philosophy or creative writing. Thus, it seems more likely that savants and gifted children owe their gifts at least in part to innate abilities that in turn reflect atypical brain organization. Indirect evidence that gifted children and savants have atypical brain organization: 1) Giftedness in mathematics, visual arts and music is associated with superior visual-spatial abilities, and children with mathematical gifts show enhanced brain activity in their right hemisphere when asked to recognize faces, a task known to involve the right hemisphere. 2) Individuals with gifts in mathematics, visual arts and music are disproportionately non-right-handed. This finding suggests atypical brain organization, because non-right-handedness is a rough index of anomalous brain dominance. 3) Mathematically and musically gifted individuals have a more bilateral, symmetrical brain organization than is usual, with the right hemisphere participating in tasks ordinarily reserved for the left hemisphere. 4) Giftedness in spatial areas is accompanied by a disproportionate incidence of language related learning disorders such as dyslexia, a finding reported for artists and musicians. 5) Youths with very high IQs have an increased incidence of autoimmune problems. b) The Role of Families Gifted children typically report that their family played a positive role in their development. The research does not allow us to conclude that particular family characteristics play a causal role in the development of giftedness. There are two reasons why no causal conclusions can be drawn from the existing data: 1) There is a lack of relevant control groups 2) If causality exists, its direction could be either from parent to child or from child to parent The families of gifted children are child centred, meaning that family life is often totally focused on the child’s needs. Gifted children typically grow up in enriched family environments with a high level of intellectual or artistic stimulation. Parents of gifted children typically have high expectations and also model hard work and high achievement themselves. To achieve in a performance domain, one must submit to rigorous and early training, even the most gifted children might not stick to such a rigorous schedule without a directive parent who insists that time be spent on practice. Parents of gifted children grant their children more than the usual amount of independence. Gifted children who grow up in “complex” families (those that combine both stimulation and nurturance) are happier, more alert, more engaged and more goal directed than are gifted children who grow up in families with only one or neither of these traits. Gifted children from complex families report more states of flow and high energy and were rated by teachers as original, independent and working up to their potential. c) Implications for Education and Child Rearing To be sure, no research has demonstrated that hard work, perseverance and practice is sufficient to explain the existence of giftedness. Parents and schools ought to hold and model high expectations if gifted children are to reach their potential. Standards and expectations are not only too low for the gifted, they are also far too low for the rest of our students. If our schools were as rigorous as those in Western Europe and East Asia, then many of our moderately gifted students, who are currently bored, tuning out and underachieving would be appropriately challenged. Too often parents fear pushing their children too hard. They fear they may rob their children of a normal childhood if they make them work too much and instead allow their children unlimited access to television, video games, malls and such. However, we do not know how many more high-potential children never develop their ability because they are not challenged but are instead captured by the potent messages from their peer culture to avoid work and be like everyone else. 2) Motivational Aspects of Giftedness Gifted children have a deep intrinsic motivation to master the domain in which they have high ability and are almost manic in their energy le
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