Psihologija 2010 Volume 43, Issue 3, Pages: 263-279
doi:10.2298/PSI1003263J
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The gifted underachiever in school: A student who has a problem or a 'rebel' making problems?

Jovanović Vitomir, Teovanović Pregrad, Mentus Tatjana, Petrović Milina

The main goal of this research was to study the correlates of school underachievement and to sketch the possible profile of the gifted underachiever. The study was conducted on a sample of high school students in Belgrade (N = 434). The subjects were administered a battery of ability tests and asked to self-estimate their intelligence. On the basis of ability test and school achievement data, the subjects were classified into three groups: gifted underachievers (N1 = 26), gifted students (N2 = 81), and others (N3 = 332). The results of ANOVAs indicate that these three groups differ significantly on the dimensions of Attitudes towards school: academic self-perception, attitudes toward teachers, assessment goals, and motivation and self-regulation. Also, significant between-group differences emerge on the following dimensions of self-concept: assessment of ability, assessment of achievement, and academic self-confidence. These dimensions show the highest correlation with the canonical function that efficiently discriminates between underachievers and gifted students (canonical correlation coefficient = .70, performance of classification = 91.6%). Students who do not realize their potential in school, although they consider themselves to be equally intelligent as gifted students, do not draw their confidence and self-esteem from academic achievement. Gifted underachievers evaluate educational goals as less important and are not motivated to make an effort in school. Also, they are likely to come into conflict with teachers in order to challenge their authority. These results suggest that being an underachiever is a 'choice of will', rather than the unwilling result of difficulties in the environment, psychological problems or underdeveloped meta-cognitive skills, but an alternative interpretation is also plausible. The roots of this hypothetical choice are examined with reference to the educational system and its possible effects of 'normalization'.

Keywords: gifted, underachievement, attitudes toward school, self-concept, self-estimation of intelligence

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