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Exceptionally Gifted Boys and Their Parents*

Robert S. Albert

*The writer thanks Dr. Julian Stanley for making available the pool of
math-gifted subjects and the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation and
Pitzer College for their generous financial support. Parts of the paper
were presented in earlier form at the Twenty-sixth National Annual
Convention of the National Association for Gifted Children, Baltimore,
Maryland, October 1979.

The developmental gaps between gifted intelligence
and creativity and exceptional early giftedness and the
later attainment of eminence in adulthood are well
reported. A number of factors have been thought to ac-
count for these gaps, the most mentioned being family
variables. In an effort to explore some of the possible early
experiential and family variables involved in the achieve-
ment of eminence we have developed a model of cognitive
and personality development and have undertaken a lon-
gitudinal study of two distinct groups of exceptionally
gifted boys and their families. One of the basic premises
to this model is that human development is multifaceted
and longitudinal, occurring over extended periods of time.
Rare as they are, eminent careers are also multifaceted
in their antecedents and longitudinal in their development.
They are not matters of luck or genius.
The behavioral makeup of eminence is definable, al-

though not well understood in terms of its development
(Albert, 1975, 1978). The development of eminent careers
appears to involve a number of family variables and to
require at least two major, infrequently occurring trans-
formations : cognitive giftedness into creative ability and
the transformation of this ability to an even rarer, well-
balanced set of creative skills, values, and motivations
that make up and sustain a highly committed, sharply
focused, socially responsible and personal lifestyle of cog-
nitive and creative activity. These transformations occur
first within the family, and eventually outside of it. Research
suggests that almost all well-documented eminent careers
involve persons who were cognitively gifted youths (Cox,
1926; Walberg, Rasher, & Hase, 1978). That not all cog-
nitively gifted children are also exceptionally creative
(Butcher, 1968; Wallach, 1971) or become eminent in their
adult years is also well-documented (Oden, 1968). Most
explanations for the differences between promise and
fulfillment point to substantial differences in early facili-
tating environments, family factors, and educational-
career opportunities.
A second premise of this research (Albert, 1980a, b)

centers upon the families themselves. Families are defined
as experience-producing (generating) and experience-
selecting (directing) agents in the development of their
members, especially the younger ones. Furthermore,
parental experiences, behaviors, and personalities give
form and substance to these two basic family functions.

A third assumption which is relevant to this report is that
any exceptionality focuses other persons’ attention,
interest, and motivation upon the child or adult involved.
The more significant the relationship and/or the greater
the exceptionality, the more focused and organized the
interpersonal interactions become between family and
child (see Pollin, Stabenau, & Tupin, 1965). Therefore,
family similarities and the child’s exceptionality working
together shape and order the priorities within and between
family members.

In this report, early similarities and differences between
two groups of exceptionally gifted boys and their families
will be explored.

This is a longitudinal study of two samples of healthy,

exceptionally gifted boys and their families. One group
consisted of 26 of the highest scorers in the 1976 Math
Talent Search conducted by Julian Stanley (1974, 1977);
the second group of 26 boys living in southern California
were selected only on the basis of IQ’s of 150 or higher.
All subjects were unknown to the investigator prior to
entering the study. Because most personality and cog-
nitive developmental trends show little stability until age
10 and also because different personality factors often
contribute positively to academic achievement at one age
and negatively at another, we selected a subject age range
of 11-14 (Cattell, 1971; Kagan & Moss, 1962). The mean
age was 12.5 years at the time of initial contact. Like
parents of most gifted children (Freeman, 1979; Terman,
1925), these parents were older than their national co-
horts : mothers were 27.2 years of age and fathers were
30.5 years of age at subjects’ birth. The families average
2.6 children. This is not significantly lower than the 1960
United States aveage of 3.1 (U.S. Department of Com-
merce, 1974). Their socioeconomic status was signifi-
cantly higher than the national population. Myriantho-
poulos and French’s (1968) index of socioeconomic status,
which combines household scores for education, family
income, and occupation into one score, was used to
determine this. The United States socioeconomic median
is 59. The groups’ median scores of 95.4 and 92 (combined
median score of 94) put these families at the 98.5% level
for the national socioeconomic status. Over 90% of our
subjects were living with both parents at the time of con-
tact. By comparison, the national average is 83% (U.S.
Department of Commerce, 1974). Barbe (1956) reports
figures of 88% and 93% for gifted children in his study and
Termin’s original sample.



All instruments selected for use were standard and well-

reported in the literature, and functioned as two comple-
mentary sources and types of data available on important
variables. All parents and subjects were given the Cali-
fornia Psychological Inventory (Gough, 1956), the Loevin-
ger Sentence Completion Test, (Loevinger, 1970), and
the Wallach-Kogan Test of Creative Potential (Wallach
& Wing, 1969). In addition, parents were given several

questionnaires and extensive interviews regarding their
early family experiences and their present motivations
regarding their childrens’ achievement, and intellectual
activities. The subjects, on the other hand, were given
the Biographical Inventory of Creativity (BIC) (Schaefer,
1970), the Allport-Vernon-Linzey Study of Values (Allport,
Vernon & Linzey, 1960), the Holland Vocational Prefer-
ence Inventory (Holland, 1965), and a 62-item question-
naire regarding their attitudes on various facets of school,
life, friendship, and parental expectations developed by
the author.

Factors included for study were parents’ and grand-
parents’ educational attainment, parents’ and subjects’
birth-order, subjects’ and parents’ creative potential, and
subjects’ cognitive giftedness.



Although education is related to socioeconomic status
to some degree, it offers an independent clue to a family’s
own motivation for promoting intellection and achieve-
ment in its children. Education influences both what

parents want for their children and, to some degree, how
they expect the child to achieve that goal. Knowing
parents’ and grandparents’ level of education therefore
gives one a significant clue to some of the values and be-
havioral emphases modeled and stressed by them. Refer-
ring to our earlier assumption regarding exceptionality
and family focus, we believe that these values and behaviors
will be especially centered upon the child who is excep-
tionally gifted.
Both samples were well-educated and had attained sig-

nificantly more formal education than the national norms.
Mothers. Mothers of both groups of boys were excep-

tionally well-educated. The mothers of the math-gifted
boys had an average of 15.6 years of education and there
were 17 (65%) college graduates among them. The mothers
of the high-IQ sample averaged 16.4 years of education
and there were also 17 college graduates among them.

Fathers. The fathers of both samples of boys were also
well-educated. Math-gifted boys’ fathers had reached 17.4
years of education and 22 of the 26 were college gradu-
ates (85%). The fathers of the high-IQ sample averaged
17.8 years of education and among them, 25 (96%) were
college graduates.

Grandparents. As one might expect, the amount of

formal education obtained by the grandparents was
slightly less than that obtained by the parents. The grand-
parents of the math-gifted boys averaged 12.4 years of
formal education whereas the grandparents of the high-
IQ boys averaged 11 years of formal education. More of
the grandparents (especially grandmothers) of the math-
gifted boys were college graduates. Also, significantly
more of the math-gifted boys’ grandparents had either
some post-graduate education or had obtained a post-
graduate degree.

Another interesting difference between the two sam-
ples of parents is that a significantly greater number of
the high-IQ boys’ parents were the first generation col-
lege graduates in their families than were the math-gifted
boys’ parents. This difference is primarily one between
the mothers of the two samples of boys. It appears that
more of the math-gifted boys came from families in which
lengthy formal educations are a two-generation practice
rather than a first-generation experience as appears to
be the case for the parents of the high-IQ group.

Birth-order is both a family and an individual charac-
teristic of importance and mystery in the development of
children (Albert, 1980a). There are no only children
among the math-gifted boys. There are, however, 12 oldest,
9 youngest, and 5 middle-placed children. Among the high-
IQ boys, 3 are only children, 15 oldest, 6 youngest, and
2 middle-placed. The birth-orders of the two samples are
what one would expect from the literature of gifted chil-
dren and they are not significantly different from one
another. The birth-order of the math-gifted boys’ mothers
and fathers and of the high-IQ boys’ mothers are both
quite similar and do not differ from their children’s birth-
order. The one group which does significantly differ is the
fathers of the high-IQ boys. This group consists of 6 only
children and 13 youngest children. The remaining 7 were
oldest or middle-placed. It appears that a greater number
of fathers of the high-IQ boys were raised in special family
positions than the other parents in the study.
Because birth-order affects early child-parent expe-

rience, an important way of looking at birth-order of parents
and their children is through the similarities and differ-
ences that exist between them. We find that more of the
math-gifted boys share their fathers’ birth-order than
their mothers’ by a ratio of 12 to 3. This is quite different
from the parent-child birth-order among the high-IQ boys.
They have an almost equal number of mother-son (8) and
father-son (9) matchings. In terms of both their birth-order
similarities and the fathers’ own apparent high math ability
we can say that the early experiences within the families
of the math-gifted boys are likely to be more similar to
their fathers’ than to their mothers’ and this similarity will
be greater than that of the high-IQ boys.
Cognitive Giftedness

Their preadolescent cognitive abilities establish the


remarkable cognitive giftedness of these two groups.
There can be no question that both are exceptionally
gifted, although each in a somewhat different domain.
Before becoming specific, we should say that although
we have very few IQ scores for the math-gifted boys we
have good reason to believe that a number of them are
well above IQ of 130, with several in the 180 or higher IQ
range on the basis of the IQ’s reported by some of our
families and Keating’s (1976) report on an earlier sample
of mathematically precocious boys. Similarly, among the
high-IQ group are several boys whose SAT-Math scores
were above the mean SAT-Math scores for the math-gifted
sample. Just as a number of our math-gifted boys were
reported to be much better than their peers in other sub-
jects besides mathematics, so we find a number of the
high-IQ boys to have higher measured math aptitude than
their peers. However, only one among this group appears
to have achieved actual early mathematical prominence.
He is already doing college-level work in computer
science. The two samples seem to consist of boys whose
present exceptional cognitive giftedness clearly lies in
two different but independent cognitive areas. Another
difference between the two groups is in the somewhat
greater range of activities in which the high-IQ boys have
demonstrated outstanding performances. More of these
boys are active in music, singing, dramatics, school and
community leadership roles, art, and writing (fiction and
nonfiction) than presently apparent among the math-
gifted boys. However, both groups are made up of versa-
tile subjects. This early versatility corresponds to early
research by White (1931) and others (Carroll & Larring,
1974) showing that interest and performance versatility
is one of the early stable distinguished characteristics of
the exceptionally gifted and the potentially eminent child.
The math-gifted sample was selected on the basis of their
SAT-Math scores. The high-IQ sample was selected on
the basis of their IQ scores prior to this study. Both sam-
ples’ scores were significantly higher than peer norms on
comparable cognitive measures. In order to get a better
idea of how cognitively gifted the math-gifted boys are,
we can compare their scores to those of Duke University
male freshmen (Wallach & Wing, 1969). Our math-gifted
sample has a mean SAT-Math score of 635.4 (84th per-
centile of college-bound males), compared to the 302
Duke University freshmen’s mean SAT-Math score of
651.7. There is no statistically significant difference
between the two scores. The mean SAT-Verbal score for
the math-gifted boys is 491.2 (68th percentile of college-
bound males) compared to the Duke University fresh-
men’s score of 603.3, which is significantly higher. This
difference illustrates the moderate degree of independ-
ence between mathematical and verbal aptitudes as well
as the later development common to verbal aptitude.
The high-IQ group consists of boys whose mean IQ is

159.5, standard deviation of 6.3. This group is well within
the 99th percentile.

Creative Potential

Parents and subjects were given the Wallach-Kogan
Test of Creative Potential and all boys, in addition, were
given the Biographical Inventory of Creativity (BIC). The
Wallach-Kogan measure is divided into figural and verbal
subtests, whereas the BIC is divided into an art/writing
section and a math/science section.
The relationships between cognitive giftedness and

creative giftedness are as yet not clear. However, it is
commonly held that intelligence and creativity are two
relatively separate areas of cognitive performance, and
that each is a highly multifaceted area (Anastasi &
Schaefer, 1971). Statistical analyses of batteries of crea-
tivity tests and intelligence tests generally indicate that
general intelligence accounts highly for scores on crea-
tivity measures and that furthermore, creativity itself can
be at least initially divided into two general verbal and
figural areas (Butcher, 1968; Domino, Walsh, Rezorikoff,
& Honeyman, 1976; Hudson, 1966). For these reasons
this project uses several measurements of creativity. The
results are shown in Table 1.
A surprisingly remarkable similarity exists btween the

two samples of cognitively gifted boys, although they were
selected a year apart, a continent apart, and on the basis
of distinctly different test performances. We expected the
math-gifted sample to perform better on the figural and
the math/science subtest of the Wallach-Kogan and BIC
measures, respectively, and the high-IQ sample to per-
form significantly better on the verbal and the art/writing
subtests. Instead, the differences between the two sam-
ples are slight and not statistically significant. At minimum,
these results suggest that the two samples are each made
of highly talented, cognitively gifted boys in the areas of
art/writing and math/science as measured by standard
instruments. Second, these results further indicate the
versatility that accompanies exceptional giftedness. In
addition, the math-gifted and the high-IQ samples’ per-
formances on all subtests and total scores for the Wallach-
Kogan and the BIC measures of creative potential were
significantly greater than junior high and high school junior
and senior males’ performances. There is no doubt that
these are two exceptionally gifted groups of boys, nor that
they are equally exceptional in their creative potential at
this age.

Parents’ Creative Potential

Over the years, research has indicated that cognitively
gifted children have cognitively gifted parents and will
themselves have cognitively gifted children. In a word,
cognitive giftedness appears to be very much a family trait.
What is less clear is whether or not creative giftedness
runs within families. From the pioneer research of Galton,
whose measures of eminence were actually measures of
applied creative potential, it is less clear whether parents
and children will show the same degree of correlation in
their creativity as they do in their cognitive abilities.


Table 1

Average creativity scores for nongifted junior high and high school males
and exceptionally gifted boys and their parents

a=9th-Graders significantly more productive than 7th- or 8th-Graders

b=Significantly more productive than nongifted Junior High & High School males (P<.001)

.= P<.05 Significance of differences between same-sex parents of samples of exceptionally gifted subjects**=P:!~.01 1 g P P y 9 J

Table 1 shows that the parents of both groups of excep-
tionally gifted boys are themselves exceptionally creative.
Parents of both groups outperformed Duke University
subjects. Furthermore, the parents definitely showed
more creative potential than their children. It is the parents
of the high-IQ boys who have the highest creativity scores
of all. Although the boys themselves did not differ signifi-
cantly on the Wallach-Kogan measure of creative potential,
the parents do. The performances of both groups of boys
on the Wallach-Kogan measurement are almost com-
pletely independent of their parents’ performances. The

only exception is the significant correlation between the
verbal scores of the IQ boys and their fathers (r=.487,

i p<.02-.01). The results show that the creative potential of these two

samples of gifted boys is significantly greater than that of
a control group of average-IQ peers, and at their present
age is remarkably independent of their parents’ outstand-
ing creative potential especially when compared with
Duke University subjects in Wallach and Wing’s original
study (1969). While recognizing that many factors play
crucial roles in transforming cognitive giftedness into
creative potential and ultimately later achievement, we
wish to emphasize the present evidence for the tremen-
dous creative potential within the families of both samples
of boys. It is equally clear that the parents of both groups
are exceptionally creative according to our measures.
Furthermore, although we do not have direct measures
of cognitive giftedness for the parents, the fact that many
of them are college graduates and/or hold highly profes-

sional or technical positions suggests that they are them-
selves cognitively gifted. Just as other research has shown
that cognitive giftedness runs in families, this study and
others (Albert, 1978, 1980a, b; Burk, Jensen, & Terman,
1930; Cox, 1926; MacKinnon, 1962) show that creative,
gifted children generally have creative, gifted parents.
This raises an interesting point regarding the remarkable
generative capacity of families. Our results for the siblings
of these gifted boys indicate that this capacity is some-
what selective, for we have a number of cases in which
a sibling appears to be more potentially creative than the
subject. But for the moment, it is the parents’ high degree
of creative potential that we find most remarkable and to
some degree, unexpected.

Comments and Conclusions

We are all familiar with the fact that parents’ and chil-
dren’s IQ scores generally are related and show a sub-
stantial amount of similarity in terms of their general level.
There is also good reason to believe that parents’ and chil-
dren’s creative abilities are positively related, especially
if one refers to the evidence regarding the achievement
of eminence among members of the same family. Actual
demonstration of creative ability serves as a very sound
criterion for evidence of creativity.
Over the years the degree and nature of relationship

between IQ and creativity have been much argued but
not clearly established. We believe that this study indi-
cates that the subjects’ intelligence must play an impor-
tant role in their creative performances. The interrela-


tionship is twofold: creative performance requires
intelligence for processing of information and problems,
and gifted intelligence is associated generally with a
number of the same personality characteristics that are
associated with creative ability.

Many of us tend to forget just how unclear and ques-
tionable the distinction between intelligence and creativity
is. During the early 1960’s a great deal of research and
writing on the differences between intelligence and crea-
tivity was undertaken. McNemar (1964) raised a series of
questions regarding a dichotomy. He attempted to
demonstrate that a person’s performance on creativity
measures could be accounted for by their intellectual abili-
ties. Others have since tried to demonstrate this as well
(Albert, 1980b; Butcher, 1968; Nicholls, 1972). The prob-
lem is that the distinction between creative behavior and
intelligent behavior is not as clear as often believed to be.
Intelligence is varied in its manifestations but it is mani-
fested through a variety of performances, some of which
we must call creative. Even earlier than McNemar, Mac-
Kinnon (1962) stated that &dquo;Over the whole range of intel-
ligence and creativity there is, of course, a positive rela-
tionship between the two variables. No feeble-minded
subjects have shown up in any of our creative groups&dquo;
(p. 493). Part of the problem is a problem of not being able
to measure the degrees of creativity or eminence as accu-
rately as we can IQ. But the other part of the problem is,
as suggested above, insufficient attention to the common
personality characteristics that gifted intelligence and
creativity often share, especially in the range of gifted-
ness. Studies of eminent persons from Cox (1926) to the
present day have shown that they score extremely high
on conventional IQ tests and also show some of the same
personality attributes observed among very creative
persons of all ages. We believe that although it is common
to read that intelligence and creativity are relatively inde-
pendent (Wallach, 1971), the evidence is not totally con-
vincing that this distinction holds at all levels of intelligence.
We have already referred to Cox, MacKinnon, and Wal-
berg et al. The general evidence indicates that it is rare to
find children who score average or below average in intel-
ligence and high in creativity, although it is not rare to find
children scoring well above the average in both creativity
and intelligence if one compares them to a control group
of average IQ peers. Milgram, Milgram, and Landau (1974)
report that children who score high on creativity mea-
sures almost always score much higher than average on
IQ measures. They found that among 310 average chil-
dren and 182 gifted children between the ages of 9-13 the
high creativity scores were &dquo;almost invariably found in
the upper intelligence ranges,&dquo; i.e., IQ of 140 or better.
Albert and Harold (1975) found among 53 male adoles-
cents of average or low-average IQ that the Wallach-Kogan
total scores (creative potential) correlated positively and
significantly with their IQ scores but negligably with their

self-esteem scores. However, Milgram et al. report that in
comparison to a matched sample of average-IQ children
gifted children had more positive, less conflicting self-
concepts. Moreover, their self-descriptions were more
complex and more ambiguous, showing some of the same
personality characteristics that are often found in creative
adults. We believe the results of the present study and
those of Milgram et al. show that cognitive giftedness and
creative giftedness are very much related to one another
and may be manifestations of the same complex, multi-
faceted abilities. Therefore, it should not surprise us that
there is a large degree of family cognitive and creative simi-
larity. This similarity would be a function, we believe, of
not only common heredity but of modeling a number of
the family characteristics we have described.


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Robert Albert, Professor of Psychology.
Address: Pitzer College, Claremont, California 91711.

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