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Doubt cast on biology of giftedness.

Doubt cast on biology of giftedness

Several years ago, a study linked extreme academic giftedness in 12- and 13-year-olds to two biological traits: left-handedness and allergies. The researchers suggested that fetal overexposure or sensitivity to the male hormone testosterone might foster these biological traits while contributing to the much higher incidence of mathematical and verbal precocity in boys compared with girls (SN: 12/6/86, p.357).

But another study now reveals that gifted 12-year-olds show no more tendency toward left-handedness and allergies than their nongifted but academically successful peers. Jennifer Wiley and David Goldstein of Duke (University in Durham, N.C., studied 96 gifted seventh-graders (69 boys and 27 girls) who scored at least 700 on the mathematics section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or at least 630 on the verbal section. They compared these youngsters with two age-matched groups that scored much lower on the SAT (540 or less on each section) but scored high on school achievement tests. One comparison group consisted of 96 randomly selected students, the other of 96 students whose gender distribution matched that of the gifted group.

Ten percent of the students in each group were left-handed. Among boys only, the rate of left-handedness was about 16 percent in each group. Surveys have suggested that 15 percent of children and teenagers in the general population are left-handed, although persistent lefties represent only about 7 percent of adults, Wiley and Goldstein say.

One-third of both the gifted and comparison students had allergies or asthma. The implication of this finding remains unclear since studies have not clearly documented the overall population rate of allergies, the scientists point out.

As to why gifted boys seem to outnumber gifted girls, Wiley and Goldstein maintain that boys perform better on time-limited tests such as the SAT. They point to a study by other researchers indicating that academically successful girls do as well as boys on untimed SATs. Girls' time-dependent test performance likely results from as-yet-unspecified family and school influences, Wiley and Goldstein maintain.
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Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 25, 1990
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