2016-2017 Awards for Excellence in Research winners

The Mensa Foundation's Awards for Excellence in Research are given internationally for outstanding research on intelligence, intellectual giftedness and related fields. Papers must be published in a peer-reviewed journal or presented at a peer-reviewed conference. Senior investigators received their degrees more than five years ago and have since been active in their fields. Junior investigators include graduate students, researchers who have earned their degrees within the past five years and those who have previously earned degrees in other fields and entered their present field within the past five years.

Senior Investigators

Dr. David Lubinski, Vanderbilt University, “From Terman to Today: A Century of Findings on Intellectual Precocity”

Abstract: One hundred years of research (1916–2016) on intellectually precocious youth is reviewed, painting a portrait of an extraordinary source of human capital and the kinds of learning opportunities needed to facilitate exceptional accomplishments, life satisfaction, and positive growth. The focus is on those studies conducted on individuals within the top 1% in general or specific (mathematical, spatial, or verbal reasoning) abilities. Early insights into the giftedness phenomenon actually foretold what would be scientifically demonstrated 100 years later. Thus, evidence-based conceptualizations quickly moved from viewing intellectually precocious individuals as weak and emotionally labile to highly effective and resilient individuals. Like all groups, intellectually precocious students and adults have strengths and relative weaknesses; they also reveal vast differences in their passion for different pursuits and their drive to achieve. Because they do not possess multipotentiality, we must take a multidimensional view of their individuality. When done, it predicts well long-term educational, occupational, and creative outcomes.

Article link (paywall): Review of Educational Research, December 2016

Dr. Jennifer Riedl Cross, College of William & Mary, “Social Coping and Self-Concept Among Young Gifted Students in Ireland and the United States: A Cross-Cultural Study,” (coauthors Colm O'Reilly, Mihyeon Kim, Sakhavat Mammadov and Tracy L. Cross)

Abstract: Social coping and self-concept were explored among Irish (n = 115) and American (n = 134) grades 3–8 students. Denying one’s giftedness or the impact it has on peer relationships were associated with poor self-concept in both samples. Among Irish students, denying giftedness was associated with more positive self-concept when paired with a high activity level. Engaging in many activities in the US sample and helping one’s peers in the Irish sample were positive predictors of academic self-concept. Findings suggest young gifted students may benefit from learning more about their exceptional abilities and their impact on peers. They should also be encouraged to engage in extracurricular activities and find ways to use their exceptional abilities to support their peers.

Article link (paywall): High Ability Studies, October 2015

Dr. Matthew C. Makel, Duke University, “When Lightning Strikes Twice: Profoundly Gifted, Profoundly Accomplished,” (coauthors Harrison J. Kell, David Lubinski, Martha Putallaz, Camilla P. Benbow)

Abstract: The educational, occupational, and creative accomplishments of the profoundly gifted participants (IQs ≥ 160) in the Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY) are astounding, but are they representative of equally able 12-year-olds? Duke University’s Talent Identification Program (TIP) identified 259 young adolescents who were equally gifted. By age 40, their life accomplishments also were extraordinary: Thirty-seven percent had earned doctorates, 7.5% had achieved academic tenure (4.3% at research-intensive universities), and 9% held patents; many were high-level leaders in major organizations. As was the case for the SMPY sample before them, differential ability strengths predicted their contrasting and eventual developmental trajectories—even though essentially all participants possessed both mathematical and verbal reasoning abilities far superior to those of typical Ph.D. recipients. Individuals, even profoundly gifted ones, primarily do what they are best at. Differences in ability patterns, like differences in interests, guide development along different paths, but ability level, coupled with commitment, determines whether and the extent to which noteworthy accomplishments are reached if opportunity presents itself.

Article link (paywall): Psychological Science, May 2016

Dr. Bruce Shore, McGill University, Canada, “Social-Perspective Coordination and Gifted Adolescents’ Friendship Quality,” (coauthors Catherine A. Masden, Olivia N. Leung, Barry H. Schneider and Stephen J. Udvari)

Abstract: This research examined links among academic ability, social-perspective coordination, and friendship quality, within the context of gifted adolescents’ friendships. The sample consisted of 120 early adolescents (59 girls, 61 boys), 81 of whom were identified as gifted. Academic ability, sex, and grade significantly predicted social-perspective coordination (an indicator of psychosocial maturity) in multiple regression analyses. Social-perspective coordination, perceptions (self-concept) of ability to make and keep friends, academic ability, sex, and grade predicted perceptions of the overall quality of friendships. Being a female, seventh grader, or adolescent not identified as gifted, significantly predicted higher friendship quality. Social-perspective coordination and self-concept based on having a close friend predicted higher levels of friendship quality for the gifted participants.

Article link (paywall): High Ability Studies, May 2015

Dr. Nicholas Benson, Baylor University, “Examining the Integrity of Measurement of the Cognitive Abilities in the Prediction of Achievement: Comparisons and Contrasts across Variables From Higher-Order and Bifactor Models” (coauthors John Kranzler and Randy Granville Floyd)

Abstract: Prior research examining cognitive ability and academic achievement relations have been based on different theoretical models, have employed both latent variables as well as observed variables, and have used a variety of analytic methods. Not surprisingly, results have been inconsistent across studies. The aims of this study were to (a) examine how relations between psychometric g, Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) broad abilities, and academic achievement differ across higher-order and bifactor models; (b) examine how well various types of observed scores corresponded with latent variables; and (c) compare two types of observed scores (i.e., refined and non-refined factor scores) as predictors of academic achievement. Results suggest that cognitive-achievement relations vary across theoretical models and that both types of factor scores tend to correspond well with the models on which they are based. However, orthogonal refined factor scores (derived from a bifactor model) have the advantage of controlling for multicollinearity arising from the measurement of psychometric g across all measures of cognitive abilities. Results indicate that the refined factor scores provide more precise representations of their targeted constructs than non-refined factor scores and maintain close correspondence with the cognitive-achievement relations observed for latent variables. Thus, we argue that orthogonal refined factor scores provide more accurate representations of the relations between CHC broad abilities and achievement outcomes than non-refined scores do. Further, the use of refined factor scores addresses calls for the application of scores based on latent variable models.

Article link (paywall): Journal of School Psychology, October 2016

Junior Investigators

Dr. Tanja Gabriele Baudson, University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, “The Mad Genius Stereotype: Still Alive and Well”

Abstract: Scientists and laypeople agree on high ability as a defining feature of giftedness. Yet their views on gifted people's socioemotional characteristics diverge. Most studies find the gifted to be similar or slightly superior to average-ability persons in these domains (“harmony hypothesis”). However, subjective conceptions and media representations, most of which have focused on gifted children and youth, stress the socioemotional downsides of giftedness (“disharmony hypothesis”), affecting highly able individuals and those around them, thus hampering individual development. To date, most studies on gifted stereotypes have examined selective samples, mostly teachers. The present study is the first to provide representative data on conceptions of gifted individuals in general. A brief survey of 1029 German adults assessed quality and prevalence of stereotypes about gifted individuals, without an explicit focus on children and/or adolescents. Latent class analysis (LCA) revealed two conceptions of giftedness, with twice as many “disharmonious” than “harmonious” raters. Male gender, single parenthood, unemployment, higher income or negative attitudes toward the gifted predicted disharmonious ratings. However, effects were small, suggesting future studies look deeper into the processes of stereotype formation and maintenance.

Article link (open-access): Frontiers in Psychology, March 2016

Dr. Ryan J. McGill, College of William & Mary, “Invalidating the Full Scale IQ Score in the Presence of Significant Factor Score Variability: Clinical Acumen or Clinical Illusion?”

Abstract: Within the professional literature, it is frequently suggested that significant variability in lower-level factor and index scores on IQ tests renders the resulting FSIQ an inappropriate focus for clinical interpretation and diagnostic decision-making. To investigate the tenability of this popular interpretive heuristic, the present study examined the structural and predictive validity of the KABC-II for participants in the normative sample who were observed to have significant variability in their factor scores. Participants were children and adolescents, ages 7-18, (N = 2,025) drawn from the KABC-II/KTEA-II standardization sample. The sample was nationally stratified and proportional to U.S. census estimates for sex, ethnicity, geographic region, and parent education level. Using exploratory factor analysis and multiple factor extraction criteria, support for a five-factor extraction was obtained consistent with publisher theory. As recommended by Carroll (1993; 1995) hierarchical structure was explicated by sequentially partitioning variance appropriately to higher- and lower-order dimensions. Results showed the largest portions of total and common variance were accounted for by the second-order general factor with meaningful residual variance accounted for by Short-Term Memory at ages 7-12 and 13-18. As a result, the Fluid-Crystallized Index (FCI) accounted for large predictive effects across measures of academic achievement whereas the five first-order CHC factor scores consistently accounted for trivial proportions of incremental predictive variance beyond the FCI. Implications for clinical practice and the correct interpretation of the KABC-II and other related measurement instruments in the presence of significant scatter are discussed.

Article link (open-access): Archives of Assessment Psychology, 2016