Are Gifted Students Targets of Bullying?

The stereotypical high-achieving gifted student is no longer reminiscent of a character out of Revenge of the Nerds. In that movie, the academically gifted students were teased and bullied mercilessly. But in real life, gifted students blend in seamlessly with their peers. However, with all of the research available on the increasing problem of bullying, few studies have been conducted to determine if gifted students are more vulnerable to bullying because of their academic differences. The shallow body of scientific evidence provides mixed results thus far. Some studies have suggested that gifted students are at increased risk for victimization, while others suggest they are at decreased risk. And still other studies have shown that gifted students have higher bullying rates within their own groups as a result of the pressure they are under to compete with one another and achieve. To provide clarification on this issue, Megan Parker Peters, a school psychologist at Vanderbilt University, led a study on bullying among gifted students. “In the current study, we sought to determine if rates of bullying and victimization among gifted high school students differ from those of high-achieving (HA), but not gifted, peers in Advanced Placement (AP) classes,” said Peters, who conducted the study with her colleague Sherry K. Bain of the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.

The team evaluated 90 high school students enrolled in AP classes either in the gifted program, or in the high achieving (HA) non-gifted program. “Based on our results, gifted students’ advanced cognitive development apparently does not presage a difference for these students relative to non-gifted high achievers in the amounts of bullying and victimization they experience,” said Peters. “Results of our study do not offer support for specially embedded programs targeted specifically at minimizing bullying and victimization for students who are in gifted classes. We recommend that proponents of specialized programs targeting gifted students continue to focus on activities that are beneficial based on evidential needs, such as academic acceleration.”

Peters, Megan Parker, and Sherry K. Bain. “Bullying and Victimization Rates Among Gifted and High-Achieving Students.” Journal for the Education of the Gifted 34.4 (2011): 624-43. Print.

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • GailHooper


    November 11th, 2011 at 5:07 PM

    Not only will bullies pick on people for being inferior or different, they’ll pick on people for being superior to them. I don’t care what the study says. They will keep this up until their teacher tells them the girl they are tormenting is going to be sitting across from them in the future, and she is going to be their boss, a Judge, or your lawyer. Do they really want her as an enemy?

  • p.k.


    November 11th, 2011 at 5:35 PM

    As if gifted students don’t get enough privileges! Now they want to see if we need to give them special attention about bullying too?? And the schools wonder why there’s such divisiveness among students. That’s why! Don’t make them feel they deserve more than the student who is average or below average in that respect. All deserve to be protected from bullying, no matter how smart they are.

  • H.G.F.


    November 11th, 2011 at 5:42 PM

    @GailHooper-That’s a good way to put it. Bullies that don’t get sorted out quick are the ones that grow up to be criminals, and when your worst enemy has a chance to get revenge, they’ll take it. I know I would since I am nowhere near saintly. What bullied kid doesn’t fantasize about exacting revenge on their nemesis?

  • Benny Logan

    Benny Logan

    November 11th, 2011 at 6:06 PM

    Rubbish! I’ve known plenty of students who have come to me complaining about thugs picking on them, sometimes three or more every day. What do these students have in common? They are smarter and better than them. Where did they do the study? Mother Teresa Memorial School For Young Saints? No school is 100% bully-free.

  • Jenna Briggs

    Jenna Briggs

    November 11th, 2011 at 6:13 PM

    FYI: Bullies exist everywhere and at all levels in schools. The smartest of kids also can be bullies too. Evil geniuses all have to start cutting their teeth somewhere. Don’t assume it’s only the kids with the low IQ’s that do it. Smarter kids are simply better at covering their tracks and not getting caught.

  • Maggie


    November 11th, 2011 at 8:00 PM

    I don’t know. I was in the gifted programs at school and never felt like I was targeted any more than any other student in our school. For me it always felt like it was a lot more about self confidence, and the kids with lower levels of that on the outside were the ones that tended to get picked on more. It really did not seem to make a difference what kind of classes they were in. Sadly I think that bullies are equal opportunity when it comes right down to selecting their victims.

  • Iris


    November 12th, 2011 at 7:24 AM

    Unfortunately real bullies know no boundaries.
    If they sense that there is someone who is afraid and cowed by them then that is going to be the target.
    Gifted or not, anyone can be the target of a bully. It is critical that we continue to beat the drum against bullying because our kids in any given situation deserve so much better than that.

  • J.N. Holloway

    J.N. Holloway

    November 12th, 2011 at 9:27 PM

    Considering that this study seems to go against the experiences of a few of the commentators, I think this needs to be done in more schools. You need to look at more than one sample of a mere 90 people. If a researcher came up to me and said “We found 90 students that were special and not picked on” I would say right back “Lucky you!”.

    Those must be the exceptions. Either that or they lied when asked. Not unusual when bullying has taken place, now is it?

  • Lillie


    November 14th, 2011 at 5:11 PM

    My daughter goes to a school designated as a magnet only for gifted and talented kids. I love it because there is none of that bullying nonesense there, or at least none that we have heard about. For our town, this is just the perfect fit. But I know that is not necessarily the answer to end bulliyng that everyone seems to be searching for. You can’t always isolate the children from one another, and in many cases most acdemic levels work and study together in the same environment. But in our case I would not trade this because it is so ideal on so many different levels.

  • John R Jones

    John R Jones

    April 23rd, 2012 at 7:44 AM

    I was a gifted child with temporal lobe epilepsy. I was denied support for my illness because of my intelligence and denied opportunity and support for my personal development because I had epilepsy. This combined with bullying from other schoolchildren and emotional and physical abuse from people in positions of authority drove me berserk and I ended up in adults’ psychiatric hospital regularly needing sedation with Valium and locking up in a cell. This was back in 1973 when I was only twelve years old and I have tired to take my life in the past. I have since moved on but no doubt people in positions of authority are much like cowards on The Weakest Link who look for opportunities to make the strongest look the weakest and not honouring the truth because they don’t like the truth.

    I have since moved on and doing reasonably well but have some form of depression because of how much unfairness and reward for victimisation there seems to go on where those who come out on top are the biggest cheats and bullies so I have no respect for people in high positions who abuse others to maintain their false one-upmanship.

    Unfortunately, I am one of the most argumentative and problematic of people as I will argue intellectually, logically and mathematically as my arguments are based on facts, not assumptions or beliefs. Sometimes I get treated as guilty until proven innocent and I have no intention of justifying my innocence to anyone who is trying to exercise authority on me and I can only take so much before I hit out.

    Here is something of a thought:

    People who cannot accept the truth about their inferior capabilities are normally obsessed with coming out on top by whatever means they can and don’t care how much suffering they cause as they must hide their relative inferiorities; but, gifted individuals want a fair deal and the chance to do well but are not worried about coming out on top since they have already proven their worth and know that being on top doesn’t mean being better. However, if a gifted individual is treated unfairly and made scapegoat for others faults the gifted individual is prepared to stoop to the bottom of the class and become one of the most problematic within society. Why? Because they have already proven their natural superiority and stooping to such low levels is a reflection of how they have been treated and not a reflection of their character. I am not bothered about the trail of destruction I have left behind since 1973 as all this is due to how I have been treated.

    I am like a Jekyll and Hyde – ideal when treated properly but a bit beyond control when used for others gains.

  • pamela


    October 28th, 2014 at 8:54 PM

    Gifted people as I know them have great sense of justice.
    They perceive wrongs where wrongs are happening.
    Bullying is intolerable cruelty and aggression, to them, long before others even notice it’s happening. They have that antennae which leads them well.
    Being gifted does not mean one is superior, as a healthy person sees self as neither inferior or superior. Self awareness is key.
    The bully, however, chooses (unconsciously or consciously) to inflict pain on another/s.
    This is unacceptable behaviour from civilised people’s points of view as well as the gifted, as they are one and the same.
    Look to the top of the school, say the Principal, is s/he a bully, it can trickle down so easily?
    Look to the top of organisations and see if it’s an aggressive or appreciative style right there?
    Choose the right environments where possible.
    Bullies are in high level places and also in jails.
    It’s a huge societal problem and with some good fortune the gifted will create the justice and humanity to keep the cruelty and aggressions out of people’s lives.
    I know some fine examples of these people as I write this.
    To a bully free world. I put this out into the universe because it’s timely.
    In Hope

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