▣ 8.1 Issues.

⧈ 8.1.1 Openness to experience versus overexcitability.

⧈ 8.1.2 Dąbrowski and the gifted.

⧈ 8.1.3 Dąbrowski and Piechowski.

⧈ 8.1.4 References.


⧈ 8.1.1 Openness to experience versus overexcitability. Overview.

In 2016, M. A. Vuyk and Barbara Kerr, (senior author) published two articles that presented the case that overexcitability could be subsumed under the five factor model construct of openness to experience. In making this claim, they suggested that the construct of overexcitability/TPD no longer be pursued in the field of gifted education, rather, the field should utilize the five factor model to analyse the personality of students. In 2021, Grant published a rejoinder that was followed by a comment by Vuyk and Kerr. Background.

The approach we see today of using traits to describe personality owes its history to the idea that the words we use in everyday language to describe personality should have some explanatory power – these words ought to reflect personality in real life. This so-called lexical hypothesis was based on making a list of all the words in the dictionary that describe personality. Wikipedia tells us that in 1884, Sir Francis Galton investigated the hypothesis that it is possible to derive a comprehensive taxonomy of human personality traits by sampling language. This initiative was followed up by Gordon Allport who reported his results in 1936. In 1943, Raymond Cattell, then used factor analysis to eventually derive 16 factors that he felt were descriptive of personality, and he developed a very a successful test (16 PF questionnaire).

Another thread was based on the work of Carl Jung and developed into the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Timothy Leary developed an approach that was the basis of the subsequent development of the popular circumplex models (and circumflex models have also been integrated with the five factor model). Goldberg developed the lexical big five (BF), introduced in 1981.

The five factor model approach is also based on a lexical analysis using factor analysis to arrive at five major factors that appear to be descriptive of personality. The current iteration was promoted by Costa and McCrae (see: McCrae & Costa, 1997; McCrae & John, 1992). For a balanced introduction, see Dignan, 1990.

It is not my intention to review trait theory or the five factor model here. Suffice to say, there are many criticisms and variations of the five factor model. One significant critical article appeared in 1992 written by Dan McAdams.

There are many different trait models in the psychological literature, usually based on different assumptions made in the statistical analysis used. For example, Eysenck, proposed a three trait solution using: Extroversion, Neuroticism (or Emotional Instability) and Psychoticism. The HEXACO model uses a six factor solution including honesty – humility.


Eysenck's hierarchical model (above)


DeYoung 2010 Details.

"In TPD, OEs represent manifestations of inner energy indicating potential for advanced moral and emotional development and might be common in gifted individuals (Dabrowski, Kawczak & Piechowski, 1970)" (Vuyk, Kerr, & Krieshok, 2016, p. 61).

"Mendaglio and Tillier (2006) called imaginational, intellectual, and emotional OEs the Big Three based on Dabrowski et al.’s (1970) claim that these OEs might screen for giftedness and early emergence of talents and interests" (Vuyk, Kerr, & Krieshok, 2016, p. 63). I do not see in our article where we claimed that OEs have any role in screening for giftedness.

"Openness to experience is the personality domain or factor that appears equivalent to OEs when comparing conceptual descriptions" (Vuyk, Kerr, & Krieshok, 2016, p. 64).

"For example, the most important personality theory in psychology is the FFM, a theory that has strong generalization across cultures and ages (McCrae, 2010; McCrae, Terracciano, et al., 2005). The FFM can provide an explanation of behaviors described by OEs in a more parsimonious theory" (Vuyk, Krieshok, & Kerr, 2016, p.192).

"Openness facets and OEs appear to represent the same construct, and thus the giftedness field would benefit from discussing the construct as the personality trait of openness to experience. Subotnik et al. (2011) urged gifted education to use the vast body of psychological research to inform practice. In this case, the FFM is the personality model with the strongest research support and professional acceptance in the present day" (Costa & McCrae, 1992; Goldberg, 1999) (Vuyk, Krieshok, & Kerr, 2016, p. 205).

"OEs and facets of OtE are similar constructs. The literature Vuyk et al. (2016a) reviewed shows this. This similarity is noted by proponents of the TPD and others (e.g., Gallagher, 2013; Limont et al., 2014; Silverman, 2016). But, the Vuyk et al. (2016a) study does not support claims to 'call it like it is,' as they subtitle the first of their papers. The claims include: OEs and facets of OtE 'are the same underlying construct with different names' (p. 205); 'all five OEs can be entirely represented by a facet of openness(p. 203)'" (Grant, 2021, p. 129).

"But the FFM is just one model in the field of personality studies, and the TPD is just one theory used in gifted education. Any descriptions that either can provide about the characteristics of gifted students are just some of many possible descriptions. Personality psychology does not have a single paradigm (Weiss, 2018)" (Grant, 2021, p. 132).

"The FFM is not a theory and cannot replace the TPD, which is a theory" (Grant, 2021, p. 133).

"We cannot stand by and watch a theory gain wider and uncritical acceptance while knowing that many children will not receive the educational interventions necessary to develop their talent or the psychological interventions necessary to alleviate their suffering" (Vuyk & Kerr, 2021, p. 140).

"If the author believes that our claim that OEs should be replaced by Openness to Experience and the FFM is too strong because it is based on one study, we want to remind readers that we make this claim not alone but built upon previous studies of both constructs. We must also admit to actually intending to make a strong claim. While we acknowledge that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, we are also aware that as female scholars, we often must make bold claims in order to be heard and cited. Our keen awareness of gender and privilege also inform our approach to OEs; the strong sense that one has when reading a theory that 'this does not apply to people of my (gender) (ethnicity) (social class)' is often the motivation for a critique of a theory" (Vuyk & Kerr, 2021, p. 140).

"Our keen awareness of gender and privilege also inform our approach to OEs; the strong sense that one has when reading a theory that 'this does not apply to people of my (gender) (ethnicity) (social class)' is often the motivation for a critique of a theory (Vuyk & Kerr, 2021, p. 140). Editorial comment.

Conceptually, lexical trait personality models, like the big five, are focused on describing the different facets (or factors) of personality. On the other hand, Dabrowski was concerned with trying to create a theory that could explain the lowest and most vicious behaviours he observed, and, as well, behind the highest and most noble behaviours. This hierarchical stratification reflected his multilevel approach. But, Dabrowski was not simply interested in description: he wanted to understand the difference between the lower and higher personalities. His conclusion was that at the lower level, there was no true individual personality, behaviour reflected either biologically governed instinctual impulses or, socially governed and promoted behaviours. Then, he set about using his observations to create a theory to explain how individual, authentic personality develops. This led to the conceptualization of the theory of positive disintegration. Dabrowski's approach, from a conceptual point of view, is extraordinarily different than a mere lexical description of personality.

In my opinion, the various hypotheses that the constructs of the theory of positive disintegration generate that may help understand gifted individuals have not been adequately tested. No valid test has been created to examine psychoneuroses in the gifted, or positive disintegration in the gifted. More research needs to be conducted. Ideological arguments are not an adequate basis upon which to suggest abandoning overexcitability, or for that matter, the theory of positive disintegration.

I would also note that Vuyk & Kerr seem to have a fairly myopic vision of the five factor model and are overconfident in their estimation of its applications in modern psychology. The approach has a number of critics and there are also a number of alternative approaches that appear to be as legitimate.

One of the criticisms that Vuyk & Kerr observed, is that overexcitabilities have been taken out of context of the theory of positive disintegration. As I read their articles, I suggest that they also have not expanded their views to look at the whole theory, and what it may offer in analysis of personality in the gifted.

Their comment about interventions necessary to alleviate suffering do not give me confidence that they fully understand Dabrowski's approach. Strong overexcitability represents an opportunity to contribute to, and, in conjunction and coordination with the other elements of the theory, to lead to personality growth and not to simply "suffering".

Finally, the authors do not seem to realize that if their hypothesis is correct, it would also apply to the major application of the theory of positive disintegration — the application to the general population. This should have at least been mentioned, but again, the authors appear myopic and only see overexcitability in the gifted context.


⧈ 8.1.2 Dąbrowski and the Gifted.

Dąbrowski saw a correlation between personality development and special abilities and talents, a component of developmental potential. He developed the hypothesis that those with exceptional abilities and talents —  the gifted —  would display significant developmental potential including features like overexcitability and, in some cases, the operation of the instinct of self perfection. He also hypothesized these individuals should display neuroses and psychoneuroses, the hallmarks of the process of positive disintegration and hence, eventually, advanced personality development.

The application of Dąbrowski to the field of the gifted began with Piechowski’s introduction of overexcitability as a feature of gifted children (Piechowski, 1979). This publication stimulated a flurry of subsequent work in the gifted field specifically looking at overexcitability, one component of Dąbrowski’s concept of developmental potential.

In an excellent presentation, Ackerman (1997) reported the results of her study of 79 students using Piechowski’s overexcitability questionnaire. She found psychomotor, intellectual and emotional overexcitability discriminated between gifted subjects and nongifted in some 60% of her group (some 60% were identified as gifted and displayed some overexcitability). An additional 35% displayed overexcitability but were not identified as gifted, leading Ackerman to suggest that these individuals had been missed by conventional gifted measures and, on the basis of their overexcitability profiles, these students should be classified as gifted. Another group of some 24% were identified as gifted but did not display increased overexcitability.


Pyryt (2008) reviewed the research findings on overexcitability and the gifted and concluded that gifted individuals are more likely than those not identified as gifted to show signs of intellectual OE, but based upon the research strategies and testing done to date, the gifted do not consistently demonstrate "the big three," intellectual, imaginational and emotional OE. Pyryt (2008) concluded, "it appears that gifted and average ability individuals have similar amounts of emotional overexcitability. This finding would suggest that many gifted individuals have limited developmental potential in the Dąbrowskian sense and are more likely to behave egocentrically rather than altruistically" (p. 177).

In summary, based upon the research done to date, the relationship between overexcitability and the gifted appears to remain unclear or largely unsupported. The relationship between developmental potential, as Dąbrowski described it, to the gifted remains to be tested as does the relationship between psychoneuroses and the gifted and positive disintegration and the gifted.


⧈ 8.1.3 Dąbrowski and Piechowski. Overview.

In 1967, Michael Piechowski was a professor in the microbiology department at the University of Alberta when he met Dąbrowski. He gave up his position to become a student, a research assistant and subsequently, a Dąbrowski co-author. They formed a close personal and professional relationship. As I understand the situation, frustrations arose when Dr. Piechowski sought to have more input into the works that the two were producing. Dąbrowski chose to adhere to the vision he had of his theory.

In January 1970, Dr. Piechowski went to Wisconsin to pursue a doctorate in counseling. After meeting Nick Colangelo in 1979, he became a major force in disseminating Dąbrowski’s construct of overexcitability in the gifted field. He went on to hold many workshops and presentations, and supervised a number of students in their pursuits.

Over the years, Michael Piechowski advanced his own interpretation of Dąbrowski's theory and proposed significant changes to several key components of the theory, saying that "he was correcting mistakes in the theory". Dr. Piechowski’s views have evolved over time and continue to evolve. My purpose here is to delineate these differences and trace their history as they emerged.

I have been a staunch advocate for the theory as Dąbrowski proposed it. My role has occasionally been characterized as a personal argument with Dr. Piechowski. This is not the case, the conflict is academic and is between Dr. Piechowski's verses Dr. Dąbrowski's views and, historically, my role has been to highlight these issues. This is critically important when new students are discovering the theory and are confused over what Dąbrowski originally said, in comparison to some of the writings of Piechowski on the theory. At one time, Dąbrowski's writings were difficult to find and many people discovered the theory by reading Piechowski's more accessible materials.

I (and others) have consistently asked him to clearly differentiate his ideas and summarize his own ideas in his own theory of development, under his own name. Dr. Piechowski says he has “not presented a theory of his own and will not put forth [his own] theory.” He is “simply updating” TPD and “correcting errors.”

Dąbrowski urged that the theory be studied and advanced in the future. I certainly endorse this, but believe that this must be done scientifically, and not simply based on philosophical differences. Hypotheses need to be developed, and good research done, in order to advance theory building.

I would also note the uniqueness of Dr. Piechowski's interpretations. In reviewing the literature on Dąbrowski, the views of Dr. Piechowski, and those who reference him, stand in stark contrast; for example, his views of the average person being at level II are not reflected in the contemporary literature. Stupak & Dyga (2018, p. 790) illustrated the original description of level I as Dąbrowski formulated it: “According to Dąbrowski (1986), average people and psychopaths find themselves on the lowest possible level of psychological development and personality structure. This is termed 'primary integration,' and those at this stage are described as unconscious, lacking a hierarchy of values, and influenced primarily by biological and environmental forces. As a hierarchy of values is absent on this level, these people rarely experience inner conflicts over their values or their actions.”

"According to Dąbrowski, the status of primary integration is appropriate for a significant part of the population - for "the majority of the so-called average people" (Dąbrowski, 1989 b, p. 53). The development potential of people who are representatives of the so-called the statistical norm is small" (Tylikowska, 2000). Tillier - Piechowski point/counterpoint.

 Frank, J., Curties, H., & Finlay, G. (Eds.). (2009). Imagining the way: Proceedings from the 19th Annual SAGE Conference. Unpublished Manuscript. (Proceedings from the 19th Annual SAGE Conference. November 7-8, 2008, University of Calgary, Calgary AB.).

1). Mendaglio, S. (2009). Point-Counter Point. In J. Frank, H. Curties, & G. Finlay, (Eds.). Imagining the way: Proceedings from the 19th Annual SAGE Conference (p. 69). Unpublished Manuscript. (Proceedings from the 19th Annual SAGE Conference. November 7-8, 2008, University of Calgary, Calgary AB.).

2). Tillier, W. (2009). Conceptual differences between Piechowski and Dąbrowski. In J. Frank, H. Curties, & G. Finlay, (Eds.). Imagining the way: Proceedings from the 19th Annual SAGE Conference (pp. 60 - 68). Unpublished Manuscript. (Proceedings from the 19th Annual SAGE Conference. November 7-8, 2008, University of Calgary, Calgary AB.).

3). Piechowski, M. M. (2009). Piechowski's response to William Tillier's "Conceptual differences between Piechowski and Dąbrowski" In J. Frank, H. Curties, & G. Finlay, (Eds.). Imagining the way: Proceedings from the 19th Annual SAGE Conference (pp. 70 - 74). Unpublished Manuscript. (Proceedings from the 19th Annual SAGE Conference. November 7-8, 2008, University of Calgary, Calgary AB.).

4). Tillier, W. (2009). Tillier's response to Piechowski. In J. Frank, H. Curties, & G. Finlay, (Eds.). Imagining the way: Proceedings from the 19th Annual SAGE Conference (pp. 75 - 77). Unpublished Manuscript. (Proceedings from the 19th Annual SAGE Conference. November 7-8, 2008, University of Calgary, Calgary AB.). 1977 Book Issues.

This presentation of the issues related to the 1977 books was updated in 2018. It was reviewed by Michael Piechowski for accuracy and he made several comments that were incorporated into the final version. The assistance of Chris Wells was appreciated and is acknowledged. For a full account:

This presentation was updated in 2018. It was reviewed by Michael Piechowski for accuracy and he made several comments that were incorporated into the final version. The assistance of Chris Wells was appreciated and is acknowledged. Also see:

This introduction to Dąbrowski contains a section on Maslow pertinent to this discussion: Dąbrowski 401.

This section contains a discussion of Dąbrowski and Piechowski: Appendix


⧈ 8.1.4 References.

 Ackerman, C. M. (1997). Identifying gifted adolescents using personality characteristics: Dąbrowski’s overexcitabilities. Roeper Review, 19(4), 229-236.
 Dąbrowski, K. (1929). Les conditions psycholopique du suicide. Geneva.
 Dąbrowski, Casimir (1937). Psychological basis of self mutilation. (W. Thau, Trans.) Genetic Psychology Monographs, 19, 1-104.
 Dąbrowski, K. (1967). Personality-shaping through positive disintegration. Boston: Little Brown & Co.
  De Bondt, N., De Maeyer, S., Donche, V., & Van Petegem, P. (2019). A rationale for including overexcitability in talent research beyond the FFM-personality dimensions. High Ability Studies, 32(1), 1-26. https://doi.org/10.1080/13598139.2019.1668753.
 DeYoung, C. G. (2010). Personality Neuroscience and the Biology of Traits: Personality Neuroscience. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4(12), 1165–1180. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1751-9004.2010.00327.x.
 Gallagher, S. (2021). Openness to experience and overexcitabilities in a sample of highly gifted middle school students. Gifted Education International, 026142942110532. https://doi.org/10.1177/02614294211053283.
 Grant, B. (2021). Overexcitabilities and openness to experience are not the same: A critique of a study and reflections on theory, ethics, and truth. Roeper Review, 43(2), 128–138. https://doi.org/10.1080/02783193.2021.1881852.
 McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T. (1997). Personality trait structure as a human universal. American Psychologist, 52(5), 509–516. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.52.5.509.
 McCrae, R. R., & John, O. P. (1992). An introduction to the five-factor model and its applications. Journal of Personality, 60(2), 175–215. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6494.1992.tb00970.x.
 Mendaglio, S. S. (2019). Overexcitability and Giftedness Research: Whose Constructs Are Being Investigated and How? In S. R. Smith (Ed.), Handbook of Giftedness and Talent Development in the Asia-Pacific(pp. 1–18). Springer Singapore.https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-3021-6_16-1.
 Pyryt, M. C. (2008). The Dąbrowskian lens: Implications for understanding gifted individuals. In S. Mendaglio (Ed.). Dąbrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration (pp. 175-182). Scottsdale AZ: Great Potential Press, Inc.
 Stupak, R., & Dyga, K. (2018). Postpsychiatry and postmodern psychotherapy: Theoretical and ethical issues in mental health care in a Polish context. Theory & Psychology, 28(6), 780-799. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959354318802973
 Tylikowska, A. (2000) Teoria dezintegracji pozytywnej Kazimierza Dąbrowskiego. Trud rozwoju ku tożsamości i osobowości. (Kazimierz Dąbrowski's theory of positive disintegration. A struggle to develop towards identity and personality.) In: Gałdowa, A. (ed.) Tożsamość człowieka. (The human identity.) Kraków: Wydawnictwo UJ.
 Vuyk, M. A., & Kerr, B. (2021). Openness to experience and overexcitabilities, a jangle fallacy with ethical implications: A response to Barry Grant. Roeper Review, 43(2), 139–141. https://doi.org/10.1080/02783193.2021.1881749.
 Vuyk, M. A., Kerr, B. A., & Krieshok, T. S. (2016). From overexcitabilities to openness: Informing gifted education with psychological science. Gifted and Talented International, 31(1), 59–71. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/15332276.2016.1220796.
 Vuyk, M. A., Krieshok, T. S., & Kerr, B. A. (2016). Openness to experience rather than overexcitabilities: Call it like it is. Gifted Child Quarterly. http://gcq.sagepub.com/cgi/doi/10.1177/0016986216645407.
 Wells, C., & Falk, R. F. (2021). The origins and conceptual evolution of overexcitability. Psychologia Wychowawcza, 62(20), 23–44.
 Winkler, D., & Voight, A. (2016). Giftedness and overexcitability: Investigating the relationship using meta-analysis. Gifted Child Quarterly, 60(4), 243–257. https://doi.org/10.1177/0016986216657588.