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Developmental Disorders of Underchallenged Students

Background and aims

This research project is based on the idea that an insight into the emotional experience of the lack of academic challenge and the emotional management thereof can contribute greatly to the understanding of gifted underachievers. Potency regarding interplay between emotional and cognitive processes has been nourished by numerous cutting-edge findings from the field of brain research, which provide evidence to suggest that most cognitive processes have a strongly emotional basis. A number of recent studies suggest that underchallenged students are a widespread phenomenon in Switzerland. In particular, there is a risk for personal and scholastic development. According to the Zurich Fit Study, development disorders can be conceptualised as a result of a lack or insufficient accord between the child and its environment (misfit). Beyond, the example of gifted children pinpoints special educational needs of these group. The research project examines what distinguishes children who evidence behavioural disturbances as a result of a long period of mental underload (group 1) from children who, despite similar mental underload, nevertheless evidence a relatively successful personal and scholastic development (group 2). The study is characterised by two approach factors: firstly, emotional reactions to situations of mental underload are examined in order to establish the extent to which the emotional response to mental underload is predictive of behavioural disturbances. Secondly, however, the school careers and development courses of these two groups are systematically examined. By this means, it is possible to establish the extent to which a successful school career or personality development goes hand in hand with specific scholastic measures, or whether other frequent forms of misfit can be established in children with impaired development over and above a scholastic mental underload.


According to the leading thesis, the question of whether dealing with the lack of academic challenge facilitates or hinders performance is fundamentally dependent on an emotional experience competence. In order to better understand academic underachievement, a differentiated investigation must be made to discover which components in this area of emotional experience competency are different in the gifted underachiever when compared to the gifted high achiever. This will require the employment of functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Formulation of the issues

  1. Do the two groups differ in terms of their emotional reactions to underchallenged situations?
  2. Do the groups differ in terms of specific scholastic measures in their (former) school careers?
  3. Can specific risk constellations (above all combinations of various misfits) be diagnosed?


The research project is interdisciplinary. In order to examine the central aspect adequately, functional magnet resonance imaging (fMRI) technique is used in order to measure the neuronal processes connected with (partially unconscious) emotional processes at the time of underchallenged situations . Further, two renowned institutions placed their data banks at our disposal for a content analytical evaluation.


The findings will contribute towards creating a better understanding of gifted underachievers by also investigating simultaneous unconscious emotional processes. This will allow the development of criteria for use in the support of gifted learners and most particularly for the adequate management of gifted underachievers.


  • Gyseler D. (2009). Schulische Unterforderung Hochbegabter. Schweiz. Zeitschrift für Heilpädagogik, 4, 30-34.


Forschung und Entwicklung
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