By Francis Heylighen, PhD .

Highly gifted people have a number of personality traits that set them apart, and that are not obviously connected to the traits of intelligence, IQ, or creativity that are most often used to  define the category. 

Many of these traits have to do with their particularly intense feelings and emotions, others with their sometimes awkward social interactions. 

These traits make  that these people are typically misunderstood and underestimated by peers, by society, and usually even by themselves. As such, most of their gifts are actually underutilized, and they rarely fulfill their full creative potential. 

This is particularly true for gifted women, as they don’t fit the stereotypes that society has either of women or of gifted people (typically seen as men). 

The present document is a quick attempt at sketching the overall picture, summarizing the essential characteristics and the kind of problems they tend to give rise to. 

While this is mostly a collection of existing material, I intend to prepare a paper offering a novel interpretation of these data on the basis of a cybernetic/cognitive/evolutionary thinking. 

Summary of traits 

The following is a digest of the traits that are most often listed as characterizing “gifted” or “creative” individuals. 

The number of “*” signs indicates how often this trait (or a very similar one) appeared in one of the lists that I found on the web. 

I have ordered the traits in different categories, in order to emphasize that these traits extend much further than just intelligence and knowledge (cognition). 

As a comparison, I have also included the traits (indicated by a “•”) from Maslow’s description of what he calls the “self-actualizing personality”. 

There is obviously a strong overlap in both lists, although Maslow seems to virtually ignore the cognitive traits, while emphasizing the motivational and emotional ones, in accord with his motivation-based theory. 

The fact that in spite of this very different basis to establish two personality types, the overlap is so obvious, confirms my own reinterpretation of Maslow’s theory in which I argue that self-actualization requires not only need satisfaction, but cognitive competence, i.e. knowledge and intelligence. 

(Heylighen F. (1992): “A Cognitive-Systemic Reconstruction of Maslow’s Theory of Self- Actualization”, Behavioral Science 37, p. 39-58.) 


• original, unusual ideas, creativity, connects seemingly unrelated ideas
superior abilities to reason, generalize or problem solve, high intelligence 
vivid and rich imagination 
extensive vocabulary, verbal ability, fascinated by words
learns new things rapidly
excellent long term memory
grasps mathematical/scientific concepts readily, advanced comprehension, insightful
avid reader. 
complex and deep thoughts, abstract thinker
runs mind on multiple tracks at the same time, fast thinker 

2: Perception/emotion 

highly sensitive 
• excellent/unusual sense of humour
• very perceptive, good sense of observation
• passionate, intense feelings
• sensitive to small changes in environment 
• aware of things that others are not, perceive world differently 
• tolerance for ambiguity & complexity 
can see many sides, considers problems from a number of viewpoints
• childlike sense of wonder
• openness to experience 
• emotional stability, serenity 


perfectionistic, sets high standards for self and others
• very curious, desire to know 
• very independent, autonomous, less motivated by rewards and praise
• seeker of ultimate truths, looks for patterns, meaning in life enjoys challenge, penchant for risk-taking
• outrage at injustice or moral breaches, good sense of justice 
• wide range of interests, overwhelmed by many interests and abilities
• strong moral convictions, integrity, honesty
• high drive 
• visionary, realizes visions, sense of destiny or mission 
loves ideas and ardent discussion
• sincerity 
• acceptance of self and others 

4: Activity

great deal of energy
• long attention span, sustains concentration on topics of interest, persistent 
cannot stop thinking, work myself to exhaustion 
• needs periods of contemplation, solitude 
• spontaneity 

5: Social relations 

questions rules or authority, asks embarrassing questions, non-conforming , feels different, out of step with others, sense of alienation and loneliness

Very compassionate
feels along with others, helps them understand themselves 

Quotes from other sources 

This is a collection of bits and snippets that I collected from the Web. Emphasis in the longer quotes is mine. Search quote in Google to find its source. 

Characteristics of Creative Genius 

I have always had an insatiable curiosity. 
I am able to run my mind on multiple tracks at the same time. 
I learn rapidly and retain / apply what I learn. 
I tend to be very independent. 
I tend to be less motivated than others are by rewards, bonuses, and praise. 

At times I have asked embarrassing questions or rudely pointed out truths at the wrong time. 

My preference for the complex can fool me into underestimating the simple answer. 

I like to refine and improve others’ innovations. 
I feel comfortable with a wide range of emotions. 

I can see many sides to nearly any issue. 
Honesty, integrity, and ethics are important to me.
I can help others understand themselves better. 
I am a seeker and champion of ultimate truths. 

My nervous system is easily aroused, and I am able to discern the slightest changes in my environment (aromas, shifts in light, etc.) or detect irritants (e.g. scratchy sweater label). 

I can feel along with and for others. 

I set high standards for myself and for others and am my own worst critic. 

I tend to look for consistency and security in systems, rules, and orderliness. 

I am often considered a “driven” person. I have maintained my childlike sense of wonder. 

I am intent on searching out universal truths. 

I am deeply disturbed by inequity, exploitation, corruption, and needless human suffering. 

I can and do work myself to exhaustion. 
Some people think I’m too serious. 
I have always been interested in social reform. 
I value and will defend diversity. 

I have a strong need to “make a difference.” 
I have a penchant for risk-taking. 
I can and do ignore my own needs for the sake of others. 

� LIBERATING EVERYDAY GENIUS TM by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, Psy.D. – retitled  The Gifted Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius

Characteristics of Gifted Adults 

Perfectionistic and sets high standards for self and others. 
Has strong moral convictions. 
Is highly sensitive, perceptive or insightful. Fascinated by words or an avid reader. 
Feels out-of-sync with others. 
Is very curious. 
Has an unusual sense of humour. 
A good problem solver. 
Has a vivid and rich imagination. 
Questions rules or authority. 
Has unusual ideas or connects seemingly unrelated ideas. 
Thrives on challenge. 
Learns new things rapidly. 
Has a good long-term memory. 
Feels overwhelmed by many interests and abilities. 
Is very compassionate. 
Feels outrage at moral breaches that the rest of the world seems to take for granted. 
Has passionate, intense feelings. 
Has a great deal of energy. 
Can’t switch off thinking. 
Feels driven by creativity. 
Loves ideas and ardent discussion. Needs periods of contemplation. 
Searches for ???? in their life. 
Feels a sense of alienation and loneliness. 
Is very perceptive. 
Feels out of step with others. 

Temi Badmus
Temi Badmus
Temi Badmus is a Food scientist and an Art enthusiast. Her desire is to give a listening ear to people and to give an opportunity for everyone to be heard. Has any one told you that you are special? Yes, you are. You were beautifully designed, you are relevant to this generation and very special to me. Connect with me on LinkedIn


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