[A cross-sectional study of trait-anxiety in a group of 111 intellectually gifted children].Encephale. 2013 Sep; 39(4):278-83.E
Intellectually gifted children are often thought to display a high risk for psychopathology. However, this assertion has received only few direct arguments to date, and there is in fact a lack of knowledge on this subject. The aim of this study was to compare trait-anxiety - which is considered as a sensitive and early indicator of psychoaffective difficulties in children - in intellectually gifted children to the norm.
One hundred and eleven children aged 8 to 12 and with an intellectual quotient (IQ) higher than 129 participated in the study. They were recruited in a hospital department of child and adolescent psychiatry and through psychologists' private practice, where they attended consultation because of academic underachievement and/or social maladjustment. All the children were examined by trained psychiatrists and psychologists: none had a present or past medical or psychiatric condition and, additionally, none had an elevated score on the French version of the Children's Depressive Rating Scale Revised (Moor & Mack, 1982). Parents filled in a questionnaire for the collection of socio-demographic data and children answered the French version of the Revised-Children's Manifest Anxiety Scale (R-CMAS; Reynolds, 1999), a 37-items self-assessment of trait-anxiety, the psychometric properties of which have been validated in children with high IQ.
Mean scores and subscores on the R-CMAS in the whole studied group and as a function of gender and age were compared to French normative data (Reynolds, 1999) by calculation of 95% confidence intervals; subgroups were compared using Student's t-tests. Proportions of children who's score and subscores exceeded anxiety cut-off norms were compared to normative data using chi-square tests. Statistical significance was considered at the P<0.05 level.
The studied group comprised mainly boys, and members of a sibling. Parents mainly lived as man and wife, had high academic levels, and had a professional activity. The confidence intervals of the R-CMAS scores and subscores all comprised their normative value, which denotes that no difference was statistically significant. Comparisons for age and gender showed no significant difference. Proportions of results exceeding the cut-off scores and subscores did not significantly differ from the norms.
General and dimensional trait-anxiety levels in the studied group were comparable to normative data. These results are in accordance with previous studies of trait-anxiety in children and adolescents with high IQ, which all showed normal or decreased levels. These findings do not corroborate the hypothesis that intellectual giftedness constitutes a risk factor for psychopathology.
The studied group was a clinical one, which could limit the generalisation of the results. However, mental disorders were ruled out, and the psychometric and socio-demographic characteristics of the group were in keeping with those described for the general population of gifted children. Moreover, considering that participant children displayed academic underachievement and/or social maladjustment, it can be supposed that their anxiety levels were not lower than those in the general population of gifted children. Secondly, the potentially confusing effect of socio-demographic variables (underrepresentation of low socio-economic levels and single-parent families) could not be statistically taken into account, due to the absence of a specific control group.
Intellectually gifted children seem not to display increased trait-anxiety. However, further studies are necessary to investigate psychological functioning in gifted children and their risk for psychopathology.