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Friday, February 24, 2006


What Do "Normal" People Think of the Gifted?

Thanks to Unsane for poking my brain in this direction. Why do the gifted get pathologized so often? What do we look like to the rest of the world? GENERALIZATION WARNING! This whole post includes huge generalizations about both gifted people and everyone else. If generalizations offend you in principle, stop reading now!

I've been trying to figure out this question for a while. Improv has really helped me because when I am performing, I produce instant character sketches that have to resonnate with people all the way to the back of the bar. I must use every stereotype I can come up with to flesh out the character and engage the audience. This has led to me "collecting" stereotypes and prejudices to exploit later on stage.

The conclusions from my research are:
1. Normal people expect strangers to behave reasonably predictably.
2. They base their predictions on visible or auditory markers, like accent, speech style, fashion sense, role, ethnicity, age, and their own judgement of what's normal.
3. Behaving outside the prediction is funny/interesting in performance but very threatening in real life.
4. Normal people can tolerate more unpredictability as personal relationship increases, but there is a fairly low limit for this behaviour.
5. Unpredictable behaviour puts unbearable stress on a social system which must be removed if the system is to be preserved unchanged.

So I think many of the problems of gifted people in general are based on them not conforming to predictions and thereby destabilizing everyone else's nice comfy social systems and stereotypes. I don't think that much of the rejection is personal; it's just much easier than figuring out why the behaviour is occurring and accommodating it through change. I found this lovely quote from Olin Miller to illustrate the idea: "You probably wouldn't worry about what other people think of you if you knew how seldom they do." It's too much hassle!

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Thank you

It's a sign of advanced development in a "normal", though, if they do not get all riled up about someone thinking differently.

Unfortunately, my experiences differ from yours (perhaps because Perth, Australian culture has been so isolatedly parochial).

On more than one occasion I have been punished within an inch of my psychological existence for not thinking in the same way as others.

In the first instance it was by an industrial union organisation I worked for. Immediately following that, it was by my fundamentalist christian parents. And I don't mean these punishments were light, either. The first instance almost completely broke down my digestive system, and the second instance did much to slow down my recovery from the first assault -- especially in the sense of learning to trust "society" again.

Harsh punishments for no reason other than being different.
Hi Jo.

Your post meshes with that of economist David Friedman at Ideas:


Tolerance for difference is partially a matter of temperment in my view. Those people for whom uncomfortable feelings of anxiety result from a loss of perceived control are going to want to try and control those whose behavior is " wrong" by virtue of diverging from their expectations.

Tolerance for difference is also partly a matter of intelligence. The brighter you are the more potentialities you can consider in terms of your expectations for social divergence. Brighter people are also more likely to accurately estimate the actual significance of the divergent behavior -socipopathology is a more important a consideration than ADHD,OCD behaviors or odd social affect.

Generally, in my experience average children tend to mistake high scholastic acheivement with I.Q. and their negative peer feedback is directed primarily at those gifted children who are perceived as " nerds" or "braniacs". The gifted child who is indifferent to grades or is the creative class clown seldom suffers from this social stigma.
I want to add a point: That much of what I was punished for had as much to do with my different cultural origin as it had to do with my having earned a meagre Bachelor of Arts (showing slight signs of smarts), at the time.

Yet, so intense was the cultural feeling of difference as a source of anxiety, that I did become a strong victim of a couple of groups, before I found my cultural footing.

IN fact it was these negative experiences which pushed me towards much deeper thinking, more than anything else.
Thank you, I think this is a very insightful post. I have learned to be very "bland" when first meeting people and definately can affirm your insight, in my personal experience, that people can tolerate more quirkyness later. I love hanging out with my weird friend who can tolerate lots of quirkyness.

I do believe that the instinct to smach down differences and the powerful drive to express our unique selves is one of the major issues of being human. I think finding mechanisms/processes to deal with this will be one of the main tasks of finding a way to have world peace. We are inherently social creatures, but it seems like gifted people have less willingness to conform and I sometimes wonder if that is more of a primary trait of "giftedness" than intelligence.
A great post but I have to tell you I have met some really ungifted, stupid people who were unpredictable and destabilized my comfy social system.
Why I bet even normal people like me do not always act in a predictable manner.
There's a 19th century dude who looked into this stuff. Now whilst in some lights he lauded "free spirits" over "bound spirits" he didn't call free spirits geniuses. Just more historically advanced (and perhaps to their detriments).
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