Many high-flyers put their energy into hiding their intelligence, while concealing impatience with their classmates' ability, Adi Bloom reports
gifted pupils often devote their intelligence to hiding their abilities from their peers at school, but in private are scathing of their classmates' ignorance, American researchers have found.
Older teenagers in particular are likely to hide their academic talent to ensure they fit in with their classmates.
"By making themselves more similar to their wider range of peers I these older students may feel they will have more success interacting with and identifying with that peer base," researchers at the University of Virginia report.
Many talented pupils feared their high academic ability would mean it would be difficult for them to make friends. This prompted a range of coping strategies. One teenager, for example, avoided answering questions in class because she felt so self-conscious.
These findings were the result of two studies. Researchers interviewed more than 550 children, aged 10 to 16, at a summer camp for gifted pupils. They also spoke to gifted pupils in four high schools.
They found that brighter pupils would occasionally let their guard down and talk naturally to their less-gifted classmates. But this was rarely successful.
One teenager told researchers: "It gets so frustrating. I was having a conversation with my friend and I was like, 'You just need to be persistent and keep going with that.' And she was like, 'What is persistent?' And I was just like, 'Oh my God!' "
Another pupil was more blunt. "Some of what people say in regular classes, it's like, 'God, are you naturally that stupid? Does a thought cross your mind that is intelligent at all?' "
Learning schemes designed specifically for gifted pupils met with their unequivocal approval. They felt the teachers on such courses were better equipped to meet their needs, providing respect and responsibility. And they derived pride and confidence from their ability to tackle more challenging work.
One pupil said: "I'd rather get lower grades in a more challenging course than pass through all the easy ones."
A particular benefit of the courses was the presence of like-minded classmates. One pupil compared conversation in normal lessons - "Oh, I did I this weekend, blah, blah, blah" - with that in a gifted and talented class. "We're talking about philosophy and stuff."
Pupils no longer felt the need to disguise their intelligence.
"Some people frown upon those who try hard in school. They just don't think it's cool," one girl said. "But when everybody else in the class is trying hard to get good grades, it makes it a lot easier to learn."
Another said: "You are kind of like a support group, because everybody's going through the same thing. People really help each other."