Task Commitment

A second cluster of traits that are consistently found in creative/productive persons constitutes a refined or focused form of motivation known as task commitment. Whereas motivation is usually defined in terms of a general energizing process that triggers responses in organisms, task commitment represents energy brought to bear on a particular problem (task) or specific performance area.

The argument for including this non-intellective cluster of traits in a definition of giftedness is nothing short of overwhelming. From popular maxims and autobiographical accounts to hard-core research findings, one of the key ingredients that has characterized the work of gifted persons is the ability to involve oneself totally in a problem or area for an extended period of time.

The legacy of both Sir Francis Gallon and Lewis Terman clearly indicates that task commitment is an important part of the making of a gifted person. Although Galton was a strong proponent of the hereditary basis for what he called "natural ability," he nevertheless subscribed strongly to the belief that hard work was part and parcel of giftedness:

By natural ability I mean those qualities of intellect and disposition which urge and qualify a man to perform acts that lead to reputation. I do not mean capacity without zeal, nor zeal without capacity, nor even a combination of both of them, without an adequate power of doing a great deal of very laborious work. But I mean a nature which, when left to itself, will, urged by an inherent stimulus, climb the path that leads to eminence and has strength to reach the summit -- on which, if hindered or thwarted, it will fret and strive until the hindrance is overcome, and it is again free to follow its laboring instinct.10

Terman's monumental studies undoubtedly represent the most widely recognized and frequently quoted research on the characteristics of gifted persons. Terman's studies, however, have unintentionally left a mixed legacy, because most persons have dwelt (and continue to dwell) on "early Terman" rather than on the conclusions he reached after several decades of intensive research. Therefore it is important to consider the following conclusion, reached after 30 years of follow-up studies on his initial population:

... [A] detailed analysis was made of the 150 most successful and 150 least successful men among the gifted subjects in an attempt to identify some of the nonintellectual factors that affect life success . . . . Since the less successful subjects do not differ to any extent in intelligence as measured by tests, it is clear that notable achievement calls for more than a high order of intelligence.

The results [of the follow-up] indicated that personality factors are extremely important determiners of achievement. . . The four traits on which [the most and least successful groups] differed most widely were persistence in the accomplishment of ends, integration toward goals. self-confidence and freedom from inferiority feelings. In the total picture the greatest contrast between the two groups was in all-round emotional and social adjustment and in drive to archive.11 (Emphasis added)

Although Terman never suggested that task commitment should replace intelligence in our conception of giftedness, he did state that "intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated."

Several more recent studies support the findings of Galton and Terman and have shown that creative/productive persons are far more task oriented and involved in their work than are. people in the general population, Perhaps the best known of these studies is the work of A. Roe and D. W. MacKinnon. Roe conducted an intensive study of the characteristics of 64 eminent scientists and found that all of her subjects had a high level of commitment to their work.12 MacKinnon pointed out traits that were important in creative accomplishments: "It is clear that creative architects more often stress their inventiveness, independence, and individuality, their enthusiasm, determination, and industry"13 (emphasis added).

Extensive reviews of research carried out by J. C. Nicholls14 and H. G. McCurdy" found patterns of characteristics that were consistently similar to the findings reported by Roe and MacKinnon. Although the researchers cited thus far used different procedures and dealt with a variety of populations, there is a striking similarity in their major conclusions. First, academic ability (as traditionally measured by tests or grade-point averages) showed limited relationships to creative/productive accomplishment. Second, nonintellectual factors, and especially those that relate to task commitment, consistently played an important part in the cluster of traits that characterize highly productive people. Although this second cluster of traits is not as easily and objectively identifiable as are general cognitive abilities, they are nevertheless a major component of giftedness and should therefore be reflected in our definition.


10. Francis Galion, as quoted in R. S. Albert "Toward a Behavioral Definition of Genius." American Psychologist, vol. 30, 1975, p 142.

11. L. M. Terman, Genetic Studies of Genius: The Gifted Group at Mid-Life (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. 1959). p. 148.

12. A[nne] Roe, The Making of a Scientist (New York. Dodd, Mead. 1952).

13. D. W. MacKinnon, "Personality and the Realization of Creative Potential," American Psychologist vol 20, 1965, p. 365.

14. J. C. Nicholls, "Creativity in the Person Who Will Never Produce Anything Original and Useful: The Concept of Creativity as a Normally Distributed Trait," American Psychologist, vol. 27, 1972, pp 717-27.

-- Joseph S. Renzulli

from "What Makes Giftedness? Reexamining a Definition"

Quoted on Fri Jul 6th, 2012