Enhancing the psychosocial skills of academically talented students


Rena Subotnik

Director, Centre for Psychology in Schools and Education
American Psychological Association
United States of America




Congratulations to New Zealand for leading the world in using science to address COVID-19!  During this time of enforced reflection, I can’t help but think about what keeps people growing and evolving. We know from psychological science that being productive and helping others is an effective way to feel positive.  Yet for many people their biggest obstacle to creativity - whether in the form of a new medical technique, an effective on-line curriculum, or a piece of music that inspires - is negative self-talk.  


One gift we can give to talented people of any age is a set of evidence-based tips on how to develop and exercise mental and social skills that may make it more likely that their creative ideas will be appreciated and supported.  


For most of my career, I studied and worked with academically gifted students, and I was stymied by the disturbing effects of self-sabotage on many of them.  Chance allowed me a precious insight into the preparation of elite talent in a different domain at the Julliard School.  Performance fields in the arts and sport have long realized the importance of psychosocial strength in preparing careers.  Every elite music student or athlete experiences performance anxiety or loss of concentration, and as a result, explicit teaching of skills is made available by coaches or psychologists for participants as a form of prevention.  I was fascinated, for example, to watch a renowned horn teacher prepare students to simulate the physical sensations of stage fright – shortness of breath and accelerated heart rate – by asking students to run up and down the stairs before a lesson.  Each session would begin with practice lowering heart and breathing rate to the point where it became an automatic response.   


The public tends to appreciate the gifts of performers more readily than that of academically talented students.  Yet gifted scholars are performers too.  They face high stakes tests, competition with others or themselves, and shaky reception to new ideas that challenge the status quo.  


New Zealand is in the news right now about its response to COVID19, but your country is also famous for its excellent psychologists, educators, and sports figures.  I’d love to see scholars and practitioners who work with gifted students collaborate with colleagues in the athletic world to develop a set of ideas for enhancing the psychosocial skills of academically talented students.   I’d give anything to be a fly on the wall during those discussions! 


About Rena Subotnik

Director, American Psychological Association Center for Psychology in Schools and Education

Rena F. Subotnik PhD is Director of the Center for Psychology in Schools and Education at the American Psychological Association. The Center promotes high quality application of psychology to programs and policies for schools and education.  One of the Center’s missions is to generate public awareness, advocacy, clinical applications, and cutting-edge research ideas that enhance the achievement and performance of children and adolescents with gifts and talents in all domains. 





Posted as part of the 2020 New Zealand Gifted Awareness Blog Tour, run by the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education.

The views and opinions expressed in the Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of NZCGE, their staff, and/or any/all contributors to Gifted Awareness Week.


Enhancing the psychosocial skills of academically talented students

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