Self-Actualization and Morality of the Gifted: Environmental, Familial, and Personal Factors by Deborah Ruf, PhD
I begin here to share a series of blog entries related to a chapter I wrote about 5 years ago for a book published in 2009 by Springer and edited by Ambrose & Cross. The genesis of this work, my full doctoral dissertation, began with my own pursuit of understanding myself better. I strongly believe that gifted children are generally poorly served by the popular school system approach of grouping children by age rather than readiness to learn. It leads to confusion about who we are and where we fit, issues that revisit and confuse us for much of our lives unless we get effective help or get lucky.
My product designed to help gifted children as early as possible is the Ruf Estimates™ Kids IQ Test, and my attempt to both support my continued writing and research but also to support young parents who are trying to keep their own very bright, advanced children from suffering the same confused fate with which they've struggled. For more information about that, please see my video explanation here: http://www.talentigniter.com/ruf-estimates-kids-iq-test.
How family, school, and social background contribute to the self-identity and subsequent self-concept and self-esteem of highly gifted individuals may be related to whether or not they eventually self-actualize. The author examined factors that possibly relate to the development of individuals who are self-actualized; and which, if any of these factors, are predictors of highly principled moral reasoning development. Forty-one case studies were analyzed using characteristics of emotional and moral reasoning stages outlined by Erikson, Maslow, Dabrowski, Kohlberg, and Rest. Findings indicate that self-actualization that follows inner transformation is highly correlated with advanced levels of moral reasoning. Such people are not necessarily happier or more successful in careers than subjects who attain lower emotional and moral reasoning growth. There was a significant correlation between scores on Rest’s Defining Issues Test (DIT) and Dabrowski’s and Kohlberg’s stages of development. New terms for the study, Searcher and Nonsearcher, appeared to correlate with developmental levels, with Searchers being more likely to eventu- ally self-actualize. Evidence exists that people can become Searchers. Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse in childhood was highly related to both lower and higher DIT scores and Dabrowski levels among highly gifted adults. Those who overcame persistent bitterness over abuse were more likely to become Searchers and eventually self-actualize. Those who do not experience inner transformation but are “good people” and career self-actualizers are generally in the Conventional (Kohlberg) or Stereotypical (Dabrowski) levels of development. Finally, subjects’ perceptions that someone significant to them cared about them or respected them emerged as a significant positive factor in those who eventually self-actualized.
Keywords Abuse · Career self-actualization · Dabrowski, K. · Defining Issues Test (DIT) · Emotional development · Erikson, E. · Highly gifted adults · Kohlberg, L. · Maslow, A. · Moral development · Rest, J. · Self-actualization
Educational Options, 4500 Heathbrooke Circle, Golden Valley, MN 55422, USA e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
D. Ambrose, T. Cross (eds.), Morality, Ethics, and Gifted Minds, 265
DOI: 10.1007/978-0-387-89368-6 20,
Oc Springer Science+Business Media LLC 2009
Does being smart necessarily lead to being emotionally mature and wise? This chap- ter describes an investigation of the possible connections between high intelligence and advanced emotional and moral development. By exploring environmental effects, we can consider how family, school and social background may con- tribute to growth toward self-actualization and advanced moral reasoning in gifted individuals.
The gifted tend to reach higher levels of moral reasoning at younger ages (Boehm 1962; Gross 1993; Janos et al. 1989; Kohlberg 1984). Does this early ad- vantage translate into higher levels in gifted adults than average adults? Is high intelligence a conditional but not necessarily sufficient factor for higher level moral reasoning? Do some highly intelligent adults remain at a fairly low level of moral reasoning, and, if so, can we identify environmental, familial, or other personal factors associated with this outcome? Results clearly support the conclusions that high intelligence is no guarantee of advanced emotional and moral development, but when compared to typical adults, the highly intelligent reach both advanced emotional development (e.g., self-actualization) and advanced levels of moral reasoning (Ruf 1998).
20.1 Background to the Inquiry
The backgrounds of 41 highly gifted adults were explored in case studies through analysis of self-reported, anonymous questionnaire responses. The purpose was to gain a better understanding of how the treatment and attitude of highly gifted children by home, school, and community influence overall developmental outcomes. Individuals learn about themselves and their value, and develop their self-concept, through comparisons of themselves to others and from the feedback and nurturing they receive from others (Erikson 1968; Falk and Miller 1998; Festinger 1954; Greenspon 1998; Maslow 1970; Piechowski 1989).
The investigation centered on the subjects’ perceptions of the relevance of back- ground experiences related to their own sense of accomplishment, fulfillment and satisfaction with their adult lives. Themes emerged and formed a theoretical frame- work during the course of the data analysis. Common markers among subjects that might connect specific childhood circumstances to specific adult outcomes were tabulated.
20.2 Description of Subjects
A reasonable question arises: how representative of highly gifted people was the study’s sample? It was clear from the case studies that the group represented considerable diversity of family composition, parenting styles, parental socio-economic background, educational type and quality, and adult career fields. The subjects originated from all over the United States, attended public and private rural, suburban, and city schools, and came
from families who had very little money or education to those who had much of both. All subjects were of western, middle, or eastern European, Caucasian ancestry, and two identified themselves as Jewish. The most consistent factor in the background of the subjects involved their educational experiences. The educational experiences did not appear to vary by geographic location; in fact, the biggest difference between rural and suburban schools was the degree to which the neighborhoods and communities knew the students and teachers.
Factors of age, intelligence and education were substantially reduced by the subject selection process. Though not required for inclusion, all subjects had at least undergraduate college degrees, and nearly all continued their intellectual stimulation through careers, continuing education, and reading. Nearly every subject listed reading first as a favorite pastime in both childhood and adulthood. The subjects’ career experiences varied considerably. Specifically, only one person had never done paid work outside the home; and there were two medical doctors, one small film maker, numerous university professors, psychologists, psychotherapists, attorneys, and engineers, several small business owners, two major business CEOs, and a number of social workers, writers, and classroom teachers. A great many of the subjects did much of their work alone. Interestingly, none of the subjects claimed management level work, although some were their own bosses.
Although 183 subjects volunteered to participate, the final selected participants were all within the 40-to 60-year-old age range to minimize generational cohort effects (Strauss and Howe 1991). The final subjects were not a randomized sample, and from the pool with completed author-designed inventories, an even number of males and females, and one transgendered subject, were selected. The case study content was not considered prior to selection. The self-reported IQ levels of the subjects – at least one 99th percentile score on a recognized nationally standardized test of ability – are equivalent to or higher than the mean of people in the professions. For elaboration on the subjects, the case studies and the methodology, see Environ- mental, Familial, and Personal Factors That Affect the Self-Actualization of Highly Gifted Adults: Case Studies (Ruf 1998). These data are derived from this study.
The next post for this series will include a rather long section, a Review of the Literature from my dissertation really, called A Brief Review of Self-Actualization & Moral Development. We will get into the meat of it all by the third installment. We at Talent Igniter also hope to have our Comments section back up soon because I'd prefer responding to readers in one place rather than throughout various social media.