A Synthesis of Research on Psychological Types of Gifted Adolescents

By Ugur Sak.

In this study, the author synthesizes results of studies about personality types of gifted adolescents. Fourteen studies were coded with 19 independent samples. The total number of identified participants in original studies was 5,723. The most common personality types among gifted adolescents were “intuitive” and “perceiving.” They were higher on the Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, and Perceiving dimensions of the personality scales of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) when compared to general high school students. Also, gifted adolescents differed within the group by gender and by ability. Based on the findings, the author discusses teaching practices for gifted students according to their personality preferences.

The personality characteristics of highly able youth have been investigated extensively (Chiang, 1991; Cordrey, 1986; Gallagher, 1987; Geiger, 1992; Hawkins, 1997; Jackson, 1989; McCarthy, 1975; McGinn, 1976; Mills, 1984, Mills & Parker, 1998). In these studies, gifted adolescents were found to be different from the general adolescent population, as well as different among themselves in personality types as measured by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) . Personality dimensions have also been shown to be associated with academic achievement and intelligence. For instance, Myers (1980) asserted that the possibility of one’s being intuitive- introverted increases as academic giftedness increases. One might anticipate, then, that a high introvert or intuitive type may be related to high intellectual capacity and high academic achievement in one or more areas.

Psychological Type Theory In the 1920s, Jung developed the theory of psychological types to elucidate natural differences in human behaviors. He postulated that apparently random behaviors of an individual could be understood in terms of his or her use of the functions of perception and judgment. Jung’s theory differentiates between two typological categories: attitude-related types and function-related types. Jung portrayed the two attitude types in terms of directions or orientations in behaviors and interests of people toward the material world. These orientations bring about two attitude types: extraversion and introversion.

In relation to the extroversion-introversion dimension, the relationship between individual and environment is to be investigated. Extraverted types develop a strong awareness of their environment for stimulation. The typical extravert has a strong propensity to influence others, but is likely to be influenced by others, as well. Extraverts usually seem confident, accessible, and expansive in the manner in which they build relationships with others (Jung, 1971; Lawrence, 1984; Spoto, 1995). Introverts, on the contrary, are somewhat more independent and idea-oriented than the extroverts, as they usually get their excitement from the inner world. They may sometimes seem lost in thought or maybe somewhat inaccessible in the way they move around the world (Lawrence; Spoto).

The second typological category, function-related types, refers to the specific manner or means of adaptation that produces a consciously differentiated psychological function. Jung put forward four possible functions: “sensation, intuition, thinking, and feeling” (Spoto, 1995, p. 33). Jung used “judging” to describe the polarity of thinking-feeling dimensions, which reflects an individual’s preference between two different types of judgment. Feeling types usually value harmony and human relationships in their judgments. They make decisions subjectively with a consideration of society’s values. On the other hand, Jung (1971) designated “thinking” as an opposite function to “feeling.” In contrast to feeling types, thinking types emphasize logic and objectivity in reasoning. This preference suppresses values and uses impersonal feelings in decision making (Spoto).

Jung (1971) believed that “sensation and intuition” constituted two perceiving types. Sensing types rely mostly on the five senses while they perceive information, which makes them factual and observant. Sensing types usually approach a problem in a carefully deliberate way; hence, they perceive apparent aspects of the issue (Jung; Lawrence, 1984; Spoto, 1995). Spoto stated that, unlike sensing types, intuitive types look at things holistically and critically to get a sense of the whole over the parts; hence, they are usually imaginative, speculative, and analytical, and they can be more creative. They are able to see abstract, theoretical, and global relationships.

More over, Myers extended Jung’s theory, adding a perceiving-judging polarity, which she considered to be connected with the extraversion and introversion polarity (Spoto, 1995). Judging and perceiving refer to the process a person uses in dealing with the outer world. A judging type is well organized, systematic, and orderly and has a planned way of life, while a perception type is spontaneous, receptive, and understanding and has a flexible way of life (Myers & McCaulley, 1985a).

Giftedness and Psychological Type Myers and McCaulley (1985b) proposed that psychological type is related to aptitude and achievement. People who preferred introversion and intuition showed greater academic aptitude than those who preferred extraversion and sensing. Thinking types are thought to be better at some tasks that require logical analysis, while feeling types are better at tasks that require understanding of human relations. Moreover, Myers and McCaulley found that judging types perform better on applications, which are thought to be related to higher grades, while perceiving types outperform judging types on aptitude measures. Therefore, it might be hypothesized that gifted adolescents should prefer introverted-intuitive thinking types, as they are precocious in intellectual development. However, their preference for judging-perceiving can show more variance.

Although gifted adolescents demonstrate all personality types as measured by the MBTI, they tend to prefer certain types more than general high school students do. For instance, researchers (Delbridge-Parker & Robinson, 1989; Gallagher, 1990; Hoehn & Bireley, 1988) reported that about 50% or more of the gifted population is introverted compared to the general population, whose preference for introversion is 25%.

Silverman (1985) found that 34% of 61 graduate students were extraverts, while 66% were introverts. However, some other studies have revealed different results about gifted adolescents’ preferences on the extraversion-introversion dimension. For example, Williams (1992) found that extraverts were more frequent than introverts in the gifted population. Yet, Csikszentmihalyi (1997) has argued that creative people have both traits at the same time, while the general population tends to be one or the other.

Research also reveals that most gifted adolescents are intuitive, as opposed to the general population, most of whom (70%) prefer sensing (Gallagher, 1990; Hawkins, 1997; Hoehn & Bireley, 1988; Mills, 1983; Myers & McCaulley, 1985a, 1985b; Olszewski-Kubilius & Kulieke, 1989; Williams, 1992). Since intuitive types are better at abstraction, symbols, theory, and possibilities, they outperform sensing types on aptitude tests. For example, when MBTI types of 3,503 high school male students in a college-preparatory curriculum were compared with the students’ IQ scores, all intuitive types had higher scores than sensing types (Myers & McCaulley, 1985b). Also, Delbridge-Parker and Robinson examined the MBTI preferences of 72 gifted junior high students who were finalists in the Duke Talent Identification Program and found that the gifted students showed strong preferences for intuition (75%).

Furthermore, thinking and feeling functions seem to vary in the preferences of gifted adolescents. Bireley (1991) has asserted that gender and age can explain some of this variance. For example, most females tend to prefer feeling in their judgments, while most males prefer thinking. Also, developmental trends in thinking can bring about differences. For example, Bireley stated that the adolescent movement toward the more logical and objective style may reflect the shift from a feeling to a thinking type. Several studies have demonstrated distributions of preferences of gifted adolescents on the thinking-feeling scale. For instance, Hoehn and Bireley (1988) found that 67.5% of their gifted sample preferred feeling, while there were important differences between elementary and secondary students’ personality types. Most elementary students preferred feeling, while most secondary students preferred thinking.

In addition, researchers (Gallagher, 1990; Hawkins, 1997; Hoehn & Bireley, 1988; Mills, 1984; Myers & McCaulley, 1985b; Williams, 1992) have reported that gifted learners generally have a stronger preference for perceiving over judging. However, the Atlas of Type Tables (MacDaid, Kainz, & McCaulley, 1986) indicates that most of the general population prefers judging. Piirto (1990) found that 95% of 50 creative adolescents were intuitive-perceptive. Delbridge-Parker and Robinson (1989) compared type preferences of 72 gifted junior high students to those of 1,001 National Merit Finalists and found that the percentage of the types in both groups were alike. Myers and McCaulley (1985b) stated that, because perceptive types are more open to new information, they score higher on aptitude measures, whereas judging types can be slightly higher in grades because they are well organized and focused.

Rationale for the Research Synthesis There have been many studies about personality characteristics of gifted adolescents. A substantial number of these studies used the MBTI as a tool to explore personality types of precocious youth. Although the findings of most studies are similar, some researchers found somewhat different results about personality preferences of gifted adolescents in some scales of the MBTI. In addition to differing results, the type of data reported in original studies varies. Although some of the studies used just percentiles, others used continuous scores and self-selection ratio to report data. The studies also employed different base populations or norm groups available in the manual of the MBTI and in the Atlas of Type Tables. This caused varying results in the difference between the psychological types of the gifted adolescents and the general high school population. Therefore, lack of unity among processes and findings of the studies have caused difficulties in interpreting the results. Another problem arises from studies not reporting enough data by ability level, sex, age, and grade of the participants, even though it is well known that these variables help us to understand better the diversity of the gifted population.

Therefore, an integration of the findings of these studies is essential to understanding the psychological types of gifted adolescents. The purpose of this study was to empirically investigate personality types specific to gifted adolescents as measured by the MBTI. This investigation involved research integration for the purpose of creating generalizations in four dimensions of the eight basic types — Extraversion-Introversion (EI), Sensing-Intuition (SN), Thinking-Feeling (TF), and Judging-Perceiving (JP) — and in 16 personality types, which represent combinations of the basic types: ISTJ, ISFJ, INFJ, INTJ, ISTP, ISFP, INFP, INTP, ESTP, ESFP, ENFP, ENTP, ESTJ, ESFJ, ENFJ,and ENTJ. The following questions guided this study.

1. How do psychological types of gifted adolescents differ from those of the general high school students as measured by the MBTI? 2. How do psychological types of gifted adolescents differ among themselves as measured by the MBTI?

METHOD Sample Original studies constituted the sample in this research synthesis (the studies included in the research synthesis are marked with an asterisk in the references). These studies were reported in published articles, books, technical reports, and unpublished dissertations and reports related to psychological types of gifted adolescents as measured by the MBTI. Fourteen studies with 19 independent samples were coded. The reason for including unpublished research was to avoid missing valuable data. The norm group was composed of high school students in 11th and 12th grades. Data for the norm group we re adapted from the Atlas of Type Tables (MacDaid, Kainz, & McCaulley, 1986).

Data Collection The literature review was done by means of the online version of the Educational Resource Information Center (ERIC) and Dissertation Abstracts International. Currently, ERIC contains either abstracts, full texts of studies, or both indexed from 1966 to the present. Keywords used in the search with various combinations were gifted, talented, personality, personality characteristics, personality types, psychological types, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and MBTI. Four hundred and twelve studies either in full-text or in abstract format were found. After an examination of each abstract, 63 studies were selected for further review. The rest of the studies were excluded from further investigation for three possible reasons: They were completely irrelevant to this research, they did not use the MBTI, or they were not original research.

After 63 studies we re obtained, including articles, reports, books, and dissertations, they were coded in identification forms for further review, which indicated that only 14 of them had enough data for inclusion. Each study had to report either the number of participants falling into each type, the eight basic personality types of the participants, or both to be included in this res