Researchers Studied Highly Gifted Kids for 45 Years—Here's What They Found

Intelligence matters, according to a massive longitudinal study that looked at gifted kids over the course of their lifetimes.
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Researchers have been tracking the minds and careers of over 5,000 gifted kids for 45 years. And what they learned was in some ways anticipated, and in others, totally shocking.

It all started when a psychologist named Julian Stanley figured out he could use an SAT exam to identify gifted 12- and 13-year-old middle schoolers. From there, the "Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth," or SMPY, was eventually born, lead by Camilla Benbow and David Lubinski.

A new short film out of Vanderbilt University explains their findings about how the now-adults have fared. Using questionnaires the participants filled out every several years, it was determined that yes, smart kids achieve more than average ones. So for instance, one in five, or 35 percent of the gifted children eventually went on to earn Ph.D.s. Consider that in the gen pop, only 2 percent have these advanced degrees.

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Also, the gifted kids in the study went on to produce 85 books, 681 patents, and 7,700 scholarly articles. Their achievements cut across many fields from math to science to literature.

Still, according to the study, gifted children aren't necessarily so advanced that they don't need assistance. Teachers are still vital to helping them realize their full potential. In fact, Benbow says these kids compare to children with special needs in that teachers need to be as responsive to what they require to learn.

That may involve encouraging grade-skipping. According to the film, grade-skippers were 60 percent more likely to earn patents and doctorates than gifted kids who didn't skip. They were also more than twice as likely to earn a Ph.D. in a STEM-related field.

But just because these kids are gifted doesn't mean they don't fall victim to societal pressures. While researchers found there was no income gap between genders among the participants, men and women still tended to work in jobs that played to typical gender norms.

In the end, the takeaway from the study is that intelligence matters, and nurturing that intelligence matters, too. After all, these gifted kiddos just may solve some of the biggest issues facing our world in the coming years!

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Melissa Willets is a writer, mom and coffee devotee. Find her on Facebook and Instagram where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of yoga.

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