Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Camilla Persson Benbow


Two separate research projects were conducted to investigate the moral reasoning and career decision-making of intellectually precocious youth. Moral reasoning was examined among 523 highly gifted youth. Two studies were conducted, with Study 2 serving as a replication of Study 1. Results obtained from the Defining Issues Test (DIT), a test purporting to measure moral reasoning, revealed that gifted individuals earned significantly higher moral reasoning scores than did their average ability peers; they also scored higher than college freshmen, 4 to 5 years older. Also examined among the highly gifted were possible correlates of principled moral reasoning: ability (SAT-M, SAT-V, and Raven scores), personality characteristics, values, family environmental characteristics, family socioeconomic status, and extracurricular involvement. In general, measures of intelligence were the only variables significantly correlated with principled moral reasoning. The hypothesis that the DIT is conceptually distinct from conventional measures of general intelligence was evaluated with negative results. Investigators conducting subsequent studies involving the assessment of moral reasoning, however measured, are advised to incorporate conventional measures of general intelligence into their designs;Using the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth data set from their 10-year longitudinal study of 1,304 mathematically precocious youth, two studies were conducted to empirically identify characteristics predictive of mathematics/science career choice and high educational aspirations. Variables examined included ability (at age 13 and 17), values (at age 13), family background, attitudes toward mathematics and science (at age 13, 18, and 23), high school educational experiences, college experiences, locus of control and self-esteem, lifestyle expectations, and educational encouragement. A greater proportion of mathematically talented males pursue the math/sciences, while more females leave the math/sciences over time, and lower their educational aspirations while perceiving greater encouragement. Variables characterizing those who pursued math/sciences included favorable attitudes toward mathematics and science in high school, rigorous high school educational experiences in mathematics and sciences, theoretical value orientation, and favorable college experiences. Few differences between individuals who maintain, lower, or raise their educational aspirations over the college years were found; maintainers tended to experience more college success than did decreasers, and they came from families of higher socioeconomic status than did increasers. Although females exhibited a preference for biology, and males preferred theoretical values and the more quantitatively oriented sciences, the career decision-making process was comparable for males and females.



Digital Repository @ Iowa State University,

Copyright Owner

Cheryl E. Wiles Sanders



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132 pages