Overexcitability in the gifted

Overexcitability in the gifted

With just a little thorough research and large doses of realistic observation, it has been concluded that the intensity, sensitivity and overexcitability, they are the most important characteristics of gifted.

These observations have been contrasted with parents and teachers, who notice a different behavior and inherent differences between gifted children and their peers.

The work of Kazimierz Dabrowski, (1902-1980), gives us an excellent framework with which to understand these characteristics. Dabrowski, a Polish psychiatrist and psychologist developed the Theory of Positive Disintegration in response to the prevailing psychological theories of his time.

He believed that conflict and inner suffering were necessary for advanced development - for the movement towards a scale of values ​​based on altruism - for the movement from the “what is” towards the “what should be”. Dabrowski also observed that not all people move towards an advanced level of development but that a capacity / intelligence combined with the phenomenon of overexcitability (OE) is a prognosis of a potential higher level of development.

It is important to emphasize that not all gifted people have OE. However, many more people with OE are found in the gifted population than in the average population.


  • 1 Overexcitabilities
  • 2 1. Psychomotor
  • 3 2. Sensitive
  • 4 3. Intellectual
  • 5 4. Imaginative
  • 6 5. Emotional


The overexcitabilitiesthey are innate intensities that indicate a high capacity to respond to stimuli. They are found in a superlative degree in highly creative and gifted subjects and are expressed in greater sensitivity, awareness and intensity, and represent a remarkable difference in the framework of life and the quality of the experiences of these individuals.

Dabrowski identified five areas of intensity: Psychomotor, Sensual, Intellectual, Imaginative, and Emotional. A person can own one or more of these. "He who manifests various forms of SO, sees reality in a different way, stronger and from more points of view" (Dabrowski, 1972, p. 7). Experiencing the world in this unique way brings great joys and often great frustrations.. The pleasures and the positive part of being overexcitable are congratulations. Any frustration or associated negative part can be positively overcome and used to help the child's growth.

The five OEs are described below. After each description of each of them, several examples of strategies that represent a fraction of the possible solutions to the problems that may concern individuals with OE or those who have to work or live with them are shown.

This can serve as a springboard for the debate about additional strategies or interventions that can help improve the lives of overexcitable people.

1. Psychomotor

The psychomotor OE is a high excitability of the neuromuscular system. This psychomotor intensity includes a "capacity to be active and energetic" (Piechowski, 1991, p. 287), love movement per se, wasted energy shown by rapid speech, avid enthusiasm, intense physical activity and need for action (Dabrowski & Piechowski, 1977; Piechowski, 1979, 1991) When they feel emotionally tense, they may talk compulsively, act impulsively, behave badly and overreact, show nervous habits, overstress (tending to be "maniacs" of work), become convulsively organized or very competitive.

They get great satisfaction from their unlimited physical and verbal enthusiasm (and activity), but others can see this as load bearing. At home and at school, these children can't seem to be still. They talk constantly. Adults and their partners want to tell them to sit down and shut up! The child with psychomotor OE runs the risk of being misdiagnosed by a Hyperactive Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD).

2. Sensitive

The sensitive OE is expressed as a exacerbated experience of delight or dislike through the senses: sight, taste, touch, smell and hearing (Dabrowski & Piechowski, 1977; Piechowski, 1979, 1991). Those with sensitive OE get a much more expansive experience of their senses than a normal person. They have a greater and earlier perception of aesthetic pleasures, such as music, language, art, as well as obtain an unlimited delight of tastes, smells, textures, sounds and views. But also, thanks to this exacerbated sensitivity, they may feel over stimulated or uncomfortable with some stimuli. When they are emotionally tense, some individuals with this OE may get to eat too much, buy compulsively, or want to be the center of attention (Dabrowski & Piechowski, 1977; Piechowski, 1979, 1991). Others become withdrawn from any kind of stimulus. Children with sensitive OE can find clothing labels, class noise or cafeteria smells as disturbing that schoolwork goes to a second level. These children can also become so absorbed by their love for a particular piece of art or music that the outside world ceases to exist for them.

3. Intellectual

The intellectual OE is reflected in a marked need to seek understanding and truth, to acquire knowledge, analyze and synthesize (Dabrowski & Piechowski, 1977; Piechowski, 1979, 1991). The gifted with intellectual OE they have incredibly active minds. They are intensely curious, often avid readers and usually very observant. They are able to concentrate, strive intellectually for a long time and are tenacious in solving the problems they choose. Other features may include methodical planning and have a marked collection of visual details. People with intellectual OE frequently love theory, think about thinking and moral reasoning. This focus on moral reasoning often translates into a great concern for moral and justice issues. It also makes them quite independent of thought and may seem critical and impatient with others who don't keep up. Or they can also get so excited about an idea that they interrupt their interlocutor at inappropriate times.

4. Imaginative

This OE reflects a great weight of the imagination with respect to the association of images and impressions, frequent use of metaphors, ease to invent, fantasy, detailed visualization and elaborate dreams (Dabrowski & Piechowski, 1977; Piechowski, 1979, 1991). Often, children with this OE mix truth with fiction and create their own private worlds with imaginary partners to escape boredom. They find it difficult to be attentive in class when creativity and imagination are secondary to a rigid education. They squeeze stories and draw instead of being what they have to be in class. They may also have difficulties in completing the tasks without in the meantime, some incredible idea comes to mind and leads them to an imaginary tangent.

5. Emotional

Emotional EO is the first that parents usually notice. It is reflected in very intense and enhanced feelings, complex extreme emotions, identification with the feelings of others and a strongly affective expression (Piechowski, 1991). Other manifestations may include physical responses such as stomach aches and flushing or worry about death and depression (Piechowski, 1979). People with emotional EO have a strong capacity for deep relationships; they show strong connections with people, some places and things (Dabrowski & Piechowski, 1977). They have compassion, empathy and a lot of sensitivity in relationships. They are aware with great precision of what their feelings are, or how they are changing and growing, and often carry out internal dialogues and practice self-criticism (Piechowski, 1979, 1991). Children with OE are frequently accused of "Overreact" to situations. His compassion and concern for others, his focus on personal relationships and the intensity of your feelings can interfere with your daily tasks.

Spanish translation of part of the original text of
Sharon Lind "Overexcitability and the gifted".


Dabrowski, K. (1972). Psychoneurosis is not an illness. London: Gryf. (Out of print)
Dabrowski, K & Piechowski, M.M. (1977). Theory of levels of emotional development (Vols. 1 & 2).
Oceanside, NY: Dabor Science. (Out of print)
Faber, A. & Mazlish, E. (1980). How to talk so kids will listen, and listen so kids will talk. New
York: Avon.

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