Overexcitability is a term introduced to current psychology by Kazimirz Dabrowski as part of his theory of positive disintegration (TPD). Overexcitability is the translation of a Polish word 'nadpobudliwosc', which means 'superstimulatability' in English.
In his book Positive Disintegration, Dabrowski uses the terms "hyperexcitability", "increased excitability" "overexcitability" and just "excitability". He uses these terms interchangeably with nervousness.
Dabrowski introduces these terms to describe a heightened physiological experience of stimuli resulting from increased neuronal sensitivities. He describes those who have hyperexcitability as showing "strength and perseveration of reactions incommensurate to their stimuli." Piechowski noted that Dabrowski used the term psychic overexcitability to "underline the enhancement and intensification of mental activity much beyond the ordinary". Also, unlike some other theories of development such as Erikson's stages of psychosocial development, it is not assumed that even a majority of people progress through all levels, which are not tied to ages.
There are five forms of overexcitability. These five forms are psychomotor, sensual, emotional, imaginational and intellectual.
Psychomotor: OE is a heightened excitability of the neuromuscular system. This manifests itself in a capacity for being active and energetic, a love of movement, a surplus of energy and an actual need for physical action.
Sensual: OE is an intensified experience of any type of sensual pleasure or displeasure emanating from one of the five senses, i.e. sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. It manifests as an increased appreciation of aesthetic pleasure such as music, language, and art, and delight from tastes, smells, textures, sounds, and sights. Conversely, we see extreme pain and disgust when exposed to sensations perceived as unpleasant.
Intellectual: OE manifests itself as an extreme desire to seek understanding and truth, to gain knowledge, and to analyse and categorise information. Those high in Intellectual OE are commonly seen as intellectually gifted and have incredibly active minds. They are intensely curious, avid readers and keen observers. They frequently love thinking purely for the sake of thinking.
Imaginational: OE manifests as an intensified play of the imagination causing rich association of images, invention, fantasy, use of image and metaphor and elaborate dreams and visions. Often children high in Imaginational OE do not differentiate between truth and fiction, or are absorbed in their own private world with imaginary companions and dramatizations.
Emotional: OE is characterised by heightened, intense feelings, extreme experience of complex emotions, identification with others' feelings to the point of actual experience and strong sentimental expression. Other indications include physical response to emotional stimuli such as stomachaches when nervous and obsessive concern with death and depression. Emotionally overexcitable people have a strong capacity for deep relationships; they show strong emotional attachments to people, places, and things. They are empathetic, compassionate and extremely sensitive.
According to Dabrowski, a person who manifests any given form of overexcitability and especially one who manifests several forms of overexcitability, sees reality in a different, stronger and more multisided manner.
A small amount of definitive research has led to the belief that intensity, sensitivity and overexcitability are primary characteristics of the highly gifted. The association between OE and giftedness appears to be borne out in the research. It appears that at the least OE is a marker of potential for giftedness/creativity. Dąbrowski's basic message is that the gifted will disproportionately display this process of positive disintegration and personality growth. The term "overexcitability" was popularized in the gifted education community by scholars such as Sal Mendaglio, who edited Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration and Susan Daniels and Michael M. Piechowski, who edited Living with Intensity.
- Falk, R.F., Lind, S., Miller, N.B., Piechowski, M.M., & Silverman, L.K. (1999). The overexcitability questionnaire –two (OEQ-II): Manual, scoring system, and questionnaire. Denver, CO: Institute for the Study of Advanced Development.
- Falk, R.F., Piechowski, M.M., & Lind, S. (1994). Criteria for rating levels of intensity of overexcitabilities. Unpublished manuscript, University of Akron, Ohio.
- Dabrowski's Overexcitabilities Profile among Gifted Students Aliza Alias1, Saemah Rahman, Rosadah Abd Majid1 & Siti Fatimah Mohd Yassin2
- Dabrowski, Kazimierz M.D. Positive Disintegration. J.& A. Churchill Ltd. 1964
- Michael Piechowski was a psychologist who did a lot of research using the theories of Dabrowski
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- (Dabrowski, 1972, p7)
- (Lysy and Piechowski 1983; Piechowski 1986; Piechowski and Miller 1995)
- "A glossary of Dabrowski's terms and concepts". positivedisintegration.com.
- Lysy, K. Z.; Piechowski, M. M. (1983). "Personal Growth: An Empirical Study Using Jungian and Dąbrowskian Measures". Genetic Psychology Monographs. 108: 267–320.
- Piechowski, M. M. (1986). "The Concept of Developmental Potential". Roeper Review. 8 (3): 190–97. doi:10.1080/02783198609552971.
- Dąbrowski, K. (1967). Personality-shaping through Positive Disintegration. Boston, Mass.: Little Brown.
- Dąbrowski, K.; Kawczak, A. & Piechowski, M. M. (1970). Mental Growth Through Positive Disintegration. London: Gryf.
- Dąbrowski, K. (1964). Positive Disintegration. Boston, Mass.: Little Brown.
- Dąbrowski, K. (1964). Positive Disintegration. Maurice Bassett, 2016
- Fonseca, Christine. Emotional Intensity in Gifted Students. Prufrock Press Inc, 2011.
- Jacobsen, Mary-Elaine. The Gifted Adult. Random House Publishing 1999.
- Rankin, J. G. (2016). Engaging & challenging gifted students: Tips for supporting extraordinary minds in your classroom. Alexandra, VA: ASCD.
- Tillier, William. Personality Development through Positive Disintegration: The Work of Kazimierz Dabrowski. Maurice Bassett, 2018
- Webb, James T. Searching for Meaning, Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope. Great Potential Press, 2013.