Most pupils believe that intelligence is pre-determined and that it is impossible to improve on the mental ability you are born with. As a result, gifted pupils are more likely to put effort into a task than their less-talented classmates.
Hei Jean Ahn, of Cambridge University, questioned gifted and non-gifted Year 13 pupils - 46 in all - about their conceptions of intelligence and found that slightly more than half thought personality is a fixed entity. In particular, two-thirds of gifted pupils believed that intelligence is fixed.
Ms Ahn said: "This may be because being labelled `gifted' . implies that . a large amount of intelligence has been magically bestowed . making them special."
Gifted pupils are more likely than their classmates to respond badly to academic setbacks. This, Ms Ahn claimed, is because they "believe that they would no longer be `gifted' if they fail".
However, 89 per cent of gifted pupils said that they would attempt a task even if they thought they would be no good at it, compared with only 70 per cent of non-gifted pupils.
Ms Ahn believed this merely showed that gifted teenagers match their perceived inspiration with equal measures of perspiration. "The majority of them exerted effort into their tasks, and were also prepared to face challenges in life," she said.
Girls and boys differed on what type of success they found most rewarding. Asked to choose between being challenged academically and achieving high grades, 66 per cent of boys chose high grades, compared with 82 per cent of girls.
Girls, therefore, seem to be more goal-focused than boys, deriving greater pleasure from success than from learning new skills.
Ms Ahn concluded by suggesting teachers encourage pupils to understand that intelligence, rather than being fixed, can be developed and nurtured. This way, they can "become more incremental in their thoughts about intelligence, personality and goals in life," she said.