Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Psychological and Quantitative Foundations

First Advisor

Schuh, Kathy L.

First Committee Member

Assouline, Susan G.

Second Committee Member

Croft, Laurie

Third Committee Member

Estrada-Hernandez, Noel

Fourth Committee Member

Moore, Joyce L.


Research on talent development has focused on K–12 and adult eminence. This investigation addressed the gap in knowledge regarding talent development between the ages of 18 and 27. The purpose was to explain how a group of emerging adults continued to develop their writing ability into talents valued by themselves and society. The key questions investigated the role of self-perception of high ability in writing in the process of talent development as a lived experience, and the relationship of high ability to adult identity formation. The study also investigated how changes in family relationships and the establishment of independence related to talent development in emerging adulthood. It was a multiple case study of 7 creative writers from top-20 MFA programs. The study results indicated a number of findings. Development of writing talent in emerging adulthood is related to achieving adult identity and independence. Self-perception of high ability was universal, as was creativity. Achievement represented the confluence of intention, intellect, volition, knowledge, and imagination expressed as original work. The psychological process of differentiation and integration was used in adapting to achieve individual goals. Achieving identity for these writers and poets meant finding their voices. Ability was a pervasive factor in achieving identity. Parents, teachers, and peers guided and believed in the subjects’ ability. Family support was generally unconditional. Family mental health issues did not prevent talent development and fathers had a strong impact on sons and daughters. Independence was related to identity and represented having established primacy of self-authority. Contrary to theory, participants benefited from continued institutional support.

Public Abstract

This study fills a gap in what we know about the development of writing talent in emerging adulthood. We know a great deal about children and adolescents, talent award winners, and eminent adults, but little about how gifted people between 18 and 27 continue—or don’t—to develop their talents. I used case study methods to investigate the experience of seven students pursuing a master of fine arts in creative writing, examining their talent development trajectory, how they interpreted their own development, the decisions about school, identity, and independence they had to make, and how they acquired the identity of a writer or poet. It was a study of how these individuals sought to find their voices as writers or poets, and of their failures and successes. All of these individuals were aware of having high ability. They believed they had what it took to be a writer or poet. Creativity fueled their desire to express themselves. Despite the challenges of independence, their parents generally believed in them, as did their peers and professors. They benefited from the support of the university as a stabilizing influence, which allowed them to cultivate their talent. This study contributes to our understanding of ability as a positive and pervasive influence. It has implications for how we might prepare gifted young people for the challenges of life far from home and as they assume responsibility for their financial and emotional well-being as they establish independence.


publicabstract, emerging adulthood, gifted education, identity, multiple case study, self-perception of giftedness, Talent development


ix, 165 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 130-138).


Copyright 2015 Thomas Jay Shaff