Giftedness is either seen as genetic or learned in the scientific community. A nativist believes that it is the biological and genetic traits that make giftedness possible while the environmentalists believe that intelligence can be learned. Winkler and Jolly (2012) explore these concepts in their attempt to help others understand the historical sides of the argument.
Nativists believe that these traits develop biologically over time and make their way into future offspring. This offspring is born with giftedness and cannot learn it or remove it no matter how hard they try. Giftedness can be enhanced but cannot be learned throughout one’s life.
The environmentalist believes that giftedness is developed in the environment. You can theoretically take any child and provide books and learning to create a gifted person. In the environmentalists perspective genetics have little to do with this story.
Thus far both theories have been proved inconclusive and strict nativist or environmentalist perspectives do not seem to have full merit. Most have some level of nature versus nurture in their perspectives. The gifted person is biologically hardwired differently but can only show those higher skills through proper environmental nurturing.
Gifted tests in the 19th Century focused on perception, reaction, and bodily abilities that represent a person’s intelligence. This moved in the 20th Century to specific and general intelligence abilities. Specific abilities were used to solve particular problems. For example, a person who can throw a ball with accuracy, use verbal skills, theorize, etc…were using specific abilities.
The nativist perspective has been abused by some to indicate that those holding a different race, background, or belief were somehow inferior in intelligence. These perspectives have been used to push policies based in racism and bigotry on the population. All science has the possibility to be misused if the measurements are not accurate, they are theoretically biased, or only give a partial picture.
The truth may stand somewhere in the middle. Without the ability to perceive one’s environment through gifted traits as well as have the right environment to capitalize on those experiences it is doubtful they will fully develop. Giftedness is biologically rooted and socially enhanced. It doesn’t apply to a specific race, religion, ethnicity, or even nationality. It is an event in the human species and hits a small percentage of population ranging from 1 to 50,000 up to 1 in a million depending on level of giftedness.
Most researchers believe that multiple measures must be used to determine giftedness. Standard I.Q. tests often focus more on learned skills and formal education than they do actual traits. These tests can be culturally laden and put out-groups at a disadvantage. Using multiple forms of testing based within the biological receptivity of the individual, general intelligence, specific intelligence, and personality traits of the individual makes a difference. These tests should be culturally neutral and ensure a rounded perspective.
Winker, D. & Jolly, J. (2012). Nativists and Environmentalists-A History of Disagreement. Gifted Child Today, 35 (2).