The Genetic Studies of Genius, today known as the Terman Study of the Gifted, is a still-running longitudinal study begun in 1921 to examine the development and characteristics of gifted children into adulthood. The study was started by Lewis Terman at Stanford University and is now the oldest and longest running longitudinal study in the world.
The results from the study have been published in five books, a monograph, and dozens of articles. A related retrospective study of eminent men in history by Catharine Cox, though unrelated to the longitudinal study, was published as part of the Genetic Studies of Genius.
Terman had previously performed studies in intelligence, including his doctorate dissertation. In 1916, he adapted Alfred Binet's intelligence test for the United States and expanded its range. The result was the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales, which are still in use today (in an updated form). After his service in developing the Army Alpha during World War I, Terman returned to Stanford in order to start his study.
Terman hired several assistants, including Florence Goodenough and Catharine Cox, to search the public schools of California for gifted children. Terman initially hoped to find the 1,000 most intelligent children, but eventually found 1,444. However, Terman gradually added subjects to the study through 1928 until there were 1,528 (856 males and 672 females). Not all subjects were discovered with the Stanford-Binet. Some were selected for the study with the National Intelligence Tests and the Army Alpha. The study subjects were born between 1900 and 1925, all lived in California, were about 90% white, and the majority came from upper- or middle-class families.
Terman's goal was to disprove the then-current belief that gifted children were sickly, socially inept, and not well-rounded. Therefore, the first volume of the study reported data on the children's family, educational progress, special abilities,, interests,, play, and personality. He also examined the children's racial and ethnic heritage. Terman was a proponent of eugenics, although not as radical as many of his contemporary social Darwinists, and believed that intelligence testing could be used as a positive tool to shape society.
Based on data collected in 1921-22, Terman concluded that gifted children suffered no more health problems than normal for their age, save a little more myopia than average. He also found that the children were usually social, were well-adjusted, did better in school, and were even taller than average. A follow-up performed in 1923-1924 found that the children had maintained their high IQs and were still an overall blessed group.
Terman planned later follow-ups, and in his lifetime data would be collected in 1928, 1936, 1940, 1945, 1950, and 1955. At his death, the study was directed by Melita Oden, who collected additional data in 1960. Robert Richardson Sears later took charge of the study and collected data in 1972, 1977, 1982, and 1986. Moreover, many study participants corresponded with Terman or visited Stanford University in order to keep him updated on their lives.
According to those who have access to the study archives, the files also include news articles, letters, and other documents related to the study participants. The later follow-ups asked questions about war service, college education, marital status and happiness, work, retirement, raising children, and other lifetime events and concerns.
The study has been criticized for not having a generalizable sample. Moreover, Terman meddled in his subject's lives, giving them letters of recommendation for jobs and college and pulling strings at Stanford to help them get admitted. This makes any life outcomes of the sample tainted and ungeneralizable.
The study also has all the weaknesses of any longitudinal study: it is possible that the characteristics and behaviors of the sample are a partial result of the era they lived in. Indeed, many members of the sample couldn't attend college, due to the Great Depression and World War II. Almost half of women in the sample were homemakers for most of their lives. Despite these shortcomings, the data from the sample is often used for studies because there is no other group of people who have been followed for so long.
Of course, as time has passed, the sample has dwindled. As of 2003, there were over 200 members of the sample still alive. The study is to continue until the final member of the sample either withdraws or dies.
- Holahan, C. K., & Sears, R. R. (1995) The Gifted Group in Later Maturity. Stanford University Press: Stanford, CA.
- Holahan, p. xi.
- Leslie, M. (2000) The vexing legacy of Lewis Terman. Stanford Magazine.
- Terman, L. M. (1926). Mental and physical traits of a thousand gifted children. Vol. 1. Genetic studies of genius (2nd ed.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Burks, B. S., Jensen, D. W., & Terman, L. M. (1930). The promise of youth: Follow-up studies of a thousand gifted children. Vol. 3. Genetic studies of genius. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Terman, L. M., & Oden, M. H. (1947). The gifted child grows up. Vol 4. Genetic studies of genius. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Terman, L. M., & Oden, M. H. (1959). The gifted group at mid-life. Vol 5. Genetic studies of genius. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Holahan & Sears, 1995
- Cox, C. M. (1926). The early mental traits of 300 geniuses. Vol 2. Genetic studies of genius. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
- Terman, L. M. (1906). Genius and stupidity: A study of some of the intellectual processes of seven "bright" and seven "stupid" boys. Pedagogical Seminary, 13, 307-373.
- Terman, 1930, p. 19.
- Terman, 1930, p. 39
- Holahan & Sears, 1995, p. 12
- Holahan & Sears, 1995, p. 11-14
- Terman, 1926, p. 135-252
- Terman, 1926, p. 253-306
- Terman, 1926, p. 307-362
- Terman, 1926, p. 363-384, 441-484
- Terman, 1926, p. 385-440
- Terman, 1926, p. 485-556
- Terman, 1926, p. 55-112
- Leslie, 2000
- Terman, 1926
- Holahan & Sears, 1995, p. 18-24
- Holahan & Sears, 1995, p. 275-276
- Shurkin, J. N. (1992) Terman's kids: The groundbreaking study of how the gifted grow up. Little Brown.
- Holahan& Sears, 1995
- Holahan & Sears, p. 11
- Leslie, 2000; Shurkin, 1992
- Holahan & Sears, 1995, p. 45
- Holahan & Sears, 1995, p. 87
- Christmann, E. P., & Badgett, J. L. (2008). Interpreting assessment data. NTSA Press.
- Leslie, 2000
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