Gifted – definitions

Knowing what gifted is and how high intelligence works is a prerequisite for understanding yourself.

There are different definitions and their differences are largely due to the fact that they have been developed in different research environments and with different purposes.

The first Swedish definition
The first Swedish definition was created in the 90’s by a psychologist and professor of didactics at Jönköping University, Roland Persson. If I understand everything correctly, the purpose was to put a word on a group of people who had so far been taboo to talk about in research context in Sweden, namely those who have much higher intelligence than the average. The definition could be used to understand which children in preschool and school that belonged to the group. Here’s how Persson’s definition is:

“The one who is gifted amazes you repeatedly with its unusual ability in one or more areas, both in school and in everyday life.” (Persson, 1997) *1

The definition works well, but not on all children who are gifted. There are those who are adept at concealing their intelligence, for example by being rowdy, or deliberately underperforms to fit in or those whose disabilities hide the high intelligence.

I have seen a definition that is used a lot lately, one that is made up of three circles. Only if characteristics from all three rings work together can high achievement or gifted behavior be witnessed. (Renzulli, 1990) * 2

  • Circle 1: Above average ability
    Abstraction, memory, learning, efficiency, verbality, logic, sense of numbers
  • Circle 2: Task Commitment
    Interest, determination, curiosity
  • Circle 3: Creativity
    Flow, originality, problem solving, flexible thinking


General intelligence
When I talk about intelligence, I’m based on what is called general intelligence. Here is a quote from Swedish author Linda Leopold

“Nowadays, intelligence is often described according to a hierarchical model where one considers that the g-factor is believed to be on top. Underneath there are several different general abilities – as verbal, spatial and numerical – which in turn are divided into more specific skills.”(L Leopold, 2013) *3

It is thus that your intelligence is connected to the rest of you and who you are. It affects how you perceive the world and process it. Therefore, your intelligence plays a major role in all areas of life.

I can recommend Leopold’s book Smartast i världen* and especially the chapter about what intelligence is. She goes through the history of intelligence research, diverse explanatory models and how intelligence is usually described.

IQ level – normal distribution
General intelligence is strongly associated with IQ level as measured in different tests. Viewed to the entire population, the intelligence is distributed according to the normal distribution curve. If we had chosen a precisely normalized group of 100 people, their intelligence level had been distributed as follows:

IQ level - normal distribution

In Sweden, intelligence is tested by psychologists in tests called WAIS and in the case of children WISC. In the field of health care, these tests are used only as part of the diagnosis of other, e.g. for neuropsychiatric diagnoses. Likewise within school health care.

If you want to find out your level of intelligence, you can do a supervised test administered by Mensa. Such a test is based on the raven’s matrices and is not as extensive as the tests the psychologists do. It is required that you are good at the test situation and can handle time pressure because the test is time-limited.

Most often people prefer the explanation model that fits their own view of the world, so do I. Therefore, I have done the selections above, and therefore I will adopt the thoughts of general intelligence and the fact that intelligence is normally distributed.

Does not it matter what definition you use? What definition or description do you prefer? If you want to tell me why, please write it below.

See you!


Links to more information about:

Spearman’s theory of general intelligence

Vygotsky’s theory of dynamic development potential

Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence

Renzulli’s three-piece model that integrates motivation, creativity and high ability

Sternberg’s model that integrates creativity, practical and analytical ability as well as wisdom

Professor Roland Persson, Jönköping University, Collection page with his publications

Mensa IQ-test. Find out how to join Mensa in your country here:


1 Roland Persson (1997) ”Annorlundaland. Särbegåvningens psykologi”
2 Joseph Renzulli (1990). ”The three-ring conception of giftedness: a developmental model for creative productivity.” In R. J. Sternberg & J. E. Davidson (Eds.), Conceptions of giftedness (pp. 53-92). New York: Cambridge University Press.
3 Linda Leopold (2013) ”Smartast i världen, IQ-sällskapen från insidan”



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