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Research on Overexcitabilities
in Gifted People

Polish psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski identified 5 different areas of overexcitabilities that have been found to be common among gifted people in his Theory of Disintegration. The five areas include psychomotor, sensual, emotional, intellectual, and imaginational. Since his original paper, many researchers have studied overexcitabilities especially among gifted and talented students.

  1. psychomotor: heightened energy levels that might show up in rapid talk, restlessness, the need for movement and action, impulsivity, trouble sleeping, etc.

  2. sensual: heightened sense responses like experiencing extreme pleasure, intense reaction to tactile senses like how clothes feel, reaction to other sensual inputs like loud sounds, or a heightened awareness of aesthetics.  They may react strongly toward touch including touch from others (some preferring and some avoiding).  

  3. emotional: those with emotional overexcitability may experience intense emotions of all types. They may also develop strong attachments to people, living things, or places. They may seek out exclusive relationships, and they may experience difficulty adjusting to new environments.

  4. intellectual: intense drive for intellectual knowledge including a drive to ask probing questions, thirst for knowledge, and tendency toward deep thinking.

  5. imaginational: those with this overexcitability are often very inventive; they may produce unique or expressive images, metaphors, fantasies, and other imaginative outputs. As children, they may have imaginary friends. 

Much research has suggested that gifted populations may be misdiagnosed with a variety of disorders if clinicians don't understand overexcitabilities among the gifted. Additionally, teachers may see some of these overexcitabilities as behavioral problems instead of understanding how to support their gifted students with these overexcitabilities.  Understanding that gifted populations tend to experience more of these overexcitabilities is a first step in seeing them as a positive aspect of giftedness rather than a negative attribute. 


Here are some highlights of research related to this area:

  • Steenbergen-Hu analyzed gifted people's scores by their level of overexcitability giftedness (low, medium, or high) and found the “highly gifted” scored significantly higher than their typical peers on intellectual, imaginational, and sensual overexcitabilities..

  • Wood and Laycraft (2020) found that the characteristics of highly-profoundly gifted individuals were correlated with the higher levels of overexcitabilities and dynamisms, and they suggest that the presence of multiple overexcitabilities might be a future avenue toward gifted identification.

  • Webb et al. (2005) found that extreme intensity and sensitivity influenced gifted students’ actions, personalities, way of thinking, and also emotions.

  • Overexcitabilities among gifted individuals was shown to occur through intense levels of energy, deep appreciation of something they were passionate with, vivid imagination, and strong sensual reactions when responding to stimulus (Silverman, 2009). 

  • Piechowski (1997) speculated that the stronger the overexcitabilities were among gifted people that the less their peers and teachers were able to accept them in the learning environment and social interaction circles.

  • Alias et al. (2013) found overexcitabilities among their gifted research cohort. They speculated that based on their results gifted students with a high level of overexcitability in imagination could be potentially creative beyond the capabilities of an adult and this creativity could manifest itself in performing arts or other visual arts. However, the researchers also found that they are easily bored in the classroom if the learning process if not of interest.  Furthermore, they found that gifted students with a high psychomotor overexcitability could disrupt the classroom, as they have a tendency to move spontaneously to release their overwhelmed inner energy (Daniels & Meckstroth, 2009). The researchers speculated that this energy could be channeled towards extreme sports like skateboarding,  fast-paced dancing and martial arts.

  • ​Women in one German study scored statistically significantly higher than gifted and non-gifted men on emotional as well as sensual overexcitability (Wirthwein et al., 2011). 

  • Sousa et al. (2021) found significant differences between gifted and non-gifted students in their patterns of intellectual and imaginative overexcitability. They also found a tendency among teachers to emotionally characterize gifted students with an emphasis on psychological disorders and weaknesses​

For more reading on this topic, please see the full reference list below. You can also read the following blogs on this topic:


  • Alias et al., (2013). Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities Profile among Gifted Students. Asian Social Science; Vol. 9, No. 16.

  • Daniels, S., & Meckstroth, E. (2009). Nurturing the sensitivity, intensity, and developmental potential of young gifted children. In S. Daniels, & M. M. Piechowski (Eds.), Living with intensity (pp. 33-56). USA: Great Potential Press Daniels.

  • Piechowski, M. M. (1997). Emotional Giftedness: The Measure of Intrapersonal Intelligence. In N. Colangelo, & G. A. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of Gifted Education (2nd ed.). USA: Allyn & Bacon.

  • Silverman, L. K. (2009). My love affair with Dabrowski’s Theory: A personal odyssey. Roeper Review, 31(3), 141-149.

  • Sousa, R. A. R. de ., & Fleith, D. de S.. (2021). Emotional Development of Gifted Students: Comparative Study About Overexcitabilities. Psico-usf, 26(4), 733–743. 

  • Steenbergen-Hu S (2017) How exactly overexcitability relates to giftedness: A fine-grained look via findings of a new meta-analysis. NAGC Conceptual Foundations Network Newsletter, 44-49.

  • Webb, J. T., Amend, E. R., Webb, N. E., Goerss, J., Beljan, P., & Olenchak, F. R. (2005). Misdiagnosis and dual diagnosis of gifted children and adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger’s Depression, and other Disorders. USA: Great Potential Press, Inc.

  • Wirthwein et al. (2011). Overexcitabilities in gifted and non-gifted adults: does sex matter? High Ability Studies, Vol 22, Issue 2.

  • Wood VR, Laycraft KC (2020) How Can We Better Understand, Identify, and Support Highly Gifted and Profoundly Gifted Students? A Literature Review of the Psychological Development of Highly-Profoundly Gifted Individuals and Overexcitabilities. Ann Cogn Sci 4(1):143-165.

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