There probably isn't a parent alive who hasn't hoped their child might be called "gifted." But two CSU researchers who've studied this trait in children for decades would be quick to clarify that giftedness comes in a variety of forms.

Allen Gottfried, Ph.D., professor emeritus of psychology at California State University, Fullerton, and Adele Eskeles Gottfried, Ph.D., professor of educational psychology at California State University, Northridge, know the topic well.

The couple – among other researchers from a number of institutions – have been studying the same 107 individuals since 1979, looking at home and family environment, academic performance, personality traits and also giftedness.

They started following their subjects when all were about one year old; the subjects are now 38.

The  research conducted by the Gottfrieds and other scientists — what's known as the Fullerton Longitudinal Study — has included an estimated 25 assessments for each person over nearly four decades.

"What makes this particular study unique is that it all started with one-year-old babies. That, and we had a very intense assessment schedule," explains Dr. Allen Gottfried.

To date, the study has looked at, among other subjects:

  • the effects of early home experiences and stimulation on cognitive development and educational achievement
  • the role of temperament on development
  • early predictors of leadership, success, happiness and life satisfaction

"The big takeaway of this study is trying to understand the developmental pathways and trajectories from infancy to middle adulthood," notes Allen.

What is "Motivational Giftedness"?

Allen Gottfried's work is helping  to deepen an understanding of the differences between a child who is intellectually gifted — meaning they have a high IQ — and one who is what Gottfried calls "motivationally gifted," or extremely motivated and determined in working toward a goal or simply wanting to learn.

He notes that motivational giftedness is intrinsic, meaning it comes from within the person him or herself. "You may describe these people as high-striving," he says. "They are doing something for the love of it. They do it because it pleases them."

Early indicators of motivational giftedness can point, too, to whether a child will pursue college much later.

"Regarding higher education, we have found that when you look at children's academic intrinsic motivation in middle childhood, [it] can predict pathways on how far [they] will go in college and whether [they] will get a college degree or not," Gottfried says.

But the research he and others are conducting obviously is going  well beyond childhood and adolescence. "We want to look further into the personal predictors of personal success," he says.  "What are those early predictors in one's roots that can lead to personal success in life? What are those pathways to happiness in life?"

A Remarkable Study

The amount of information Gottfried and his colleagues have collected over the past 38 years is staggering. They have recorded personality traits, temperament, cognitive and educational performance — even how many books were on each child's bookshelves.

In infancy and early childhood, Gottfried checked in with the kids and their parents every six months; when the children entered elementary school, the assessments became annual. After finishing high school, the subjects met with Gottfried at ages 24 and 29 and, most recently, in 2017, at age 38.

"This is what makes this study remarkable," he says. "The amount of data we have is unreal. It's enough for many generations to go through."

Gottfried is emphatic about acknowledging the tremendous help he's had over the years. "I can't even begin to tell you how many CSU Fullerton students have worked on this project and have gone on to earn their Ph.D.s," he notes. "There have been many theses and doctoral dissertations done on this longitudinal study."

Referring to the study as "a multi-collaborative investigation," Gottfried recently passed on his role as principal researcher, but says he'll still be involved.

If it's up to him, the end of the Fullerton Longitudinal Study is nowhere in sight; Gottfried is pushing for researchers to follow all 107 subjects into retirement age.

Learn more about the Fullerton Longitudinal Study