Polish psychologist and psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski (1964) termed the construct overexcitabilities (OE) to mean that certain individuals have stronger responses and are more sensitive to certain stimuli, which include psychomotor (e.g., need to move more, impulsive activity, restlessness), sensual (receiving more sensual input than other people such as a strong reaction to loud noise, textures such as wool and/or tags, sight including light, or certain tastes), emotional (feel emotions more intensely such as a strong sense of sadness, joy, hurt, empathy, compassion, strong effective recall of past experiences), intellectual (independence of thought, sharp sense of observation, curious, questions everything, makes connections that others would miss), and imagination (tends to daydream, recognises associations through images, loves stories which represent the world of fantasy, doodles, invents).
In summary there are five overexcitabilities which gifted people may have being psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational, and emotional.
Researchers have stated that gifted people are more overexcited that non-gifted people and therefore can be gifted in any of these areas such as creatively gifted, intellectually gifted, gifted in sports (psychomotor) or gifted with world issues due to strong feelings and morals. Understanding children and others through this OE lens will help inform their mental health, abilities and avoid misdiagnosis for a disorder.
Some researchers argue that there is not a strong correlation between giftedness and OE while others agree with the correlation. A meta analysis was conducted to determine the validity of the idea and found that gifted people had higher scores in some OE areas compared to non-gifted people. For example, the difference in intellectual and imaginational overexcitabilites between gifted and non-gifted people had a medium effect size. The difference in sensual and emotional effect size between gifted and non-gifted people was small and psychomotor overexcitabilities effect size was not significant. The meta analysis found that OE may not be the best way to determine if people who are sensitive and overexcited are gifted but can be a part of their character and indeed when a person presents with overexcited responses such as high energy, lack of impulse control or sensory issues, that giftedness should be considered and measured when doing a mental health assessment or to understand the personhood in educational settings.
Source: Winkler D., & Voight, A., (2016). Giftedness and overexcitability: Investigating the relationship using a meta-analysis. Gifted Child Quarterly 60(4), 243-257.
Josephine from jb Consulting and Psychology is a
mental health, behaviour and learning intervention and consulting specialist for children, young people, those with dementia or ADHD, and the workplace.