Cultivating the social-emotional imagination in gifted education: insights from educational neuroscience

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2016 Aug;1377(1):22-31. doi: 10.1111/nyas.13165. Epub 2016 Aug 9.


Evidence from education, psychology, and neuroscience suggests that investing in the development of the social-emotional imagination is essential to cultivating giftedness in adolescents. Nurturing these capacities may be especially effective for promoting giftedness in students who are likely to lose interest and ambition over time. Giftedness is frequently equated with high general intelligence as measured by IQ tests, but this narrow conceptualization does not adequately capture students' abilities to utilize their talents strategically to fully realize their future possible selves. The brain's default mode network is thought to play an important role in supporting imaginative thinking about the self and others across time. Because this network's functioning is temporarily attenuated when individuals engage in task- and action-oriented focus (mindsets thought to engage the brain's executive attention network), we suggest that consistently focusing students on tasks requiring immediate action could undermine long-term cultivation of giftedness. We argue that giftedness-especially in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-can be cultivated by encouraging adolescents' intellectual curiosity and supporting their ability to connect schoolwork to a larger purpose. Improving STEM and gifted education may depend upon a shift from knowledge transmission and regimented evaluation to creative exploration, intentional reflectiveness, and mindful switching between task focus and imagining.

Keywords: STEM education; default mode network; giftedness; social-emotional imagination.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child, Gifted / education*
  • Child, Gifted / psychology*
  • Creativity*
  • Emotional Intelligence / physiology
  • Humans
  • Imagination* / physiology
  • Intelligence Tests / standards
  • Intelligence* / physiology
  • Neurosciences / methods
  • Neurosciences / trends*